Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Lady's Prerogative: Bella's Tarot Reading

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Introduction

Since writing Where Art Thou Barris? I'd wanted to bring Bella back in another story. To follow up on her life and progress in the aftermath so to speak. Transylvania has a wonderful mystique and intriguing lore that has been explored numerous times in other works a thousand fold. So I thought I'd bring Bella here to our neck of the woods in a pseudo themed mini-adventure that happens somewhere between A Lady's Prerogative and A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth. I hope you enjoy this tale.

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If you'd like to give something back for my efforts in writing these free to read stories which do take considerable time and energy from my life, please show your support by donating to one or more of the following charities.

If you are a reader of The Butterfly Dragon: Heroes Of Our Own stories and books:

The Princess Margaret Foundation (Cancer Research), The Cancer Research Institute (Cancer Research), The Reeve Foundation (Research Cures For Paralysis), The ALS Society Of BC (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and Muscular Dystrophy Canada (Muscular Degeneration).

If you are a reader of A Lady's Prerogative stories and books:

The United Nations FoundationThe United Way and The Humane Society International and the David Suzuki Society for reasons that go well beyond saying and whose efforts are represented in one way or another through my writings.

Brian Joseph Johns


Bella's Tarot Reading


by Brian Joseph Johns


"Transylvania?! I was just there!" Mila exclaimed.

"That was months ago. And right when you and Barris needed just a little bit of spice in your lives to make things interesting." Susannia responded, her ghostly form extending from Mila's historical portrait rendering.

She'd painted the piece on a canvas, one of her largest paintings. Six feet wide by nine feet tall. An upper body portrait of two Women who'd innovated the position of Women, progress and the incredible responsibility that lay within the arms of scientists of their day in the early eighteen hundreds. It depicted two familiar friends from history. One named Susannia and the other named Margaret. It was as simple as that and anyone eyeing her painting would know perhaps not who they were or their significance, but they'd see it painted in their poise and expression.

She'd kept the painting hidden for three years before meeting Barris and then after their return from L'Arbor De Noire she'd pulled it from her storage and placed it upon the wall. A few nights after she'd placed it on the wall, she'd wandered downstairs from her bedroom for a snack after a steamy encounter with Barris. She'd wandered into the den to find the painting centered on the large wall. Mila had grabbed the bottle of wine they'd corked earlier in the evening when she felt a chill in the air. When she turned to return to the kitchen, she was confronted by two ghostly apparitions. She jumped back startled even letting a scream out of her lips which sounded more like a "yip" than anything.

"My dear? That's hardly a scream. If you're going to do it you'll need to do it more like..." Susannia began.

"Wait! You'll go and terrorize the whole orchard. You'll send all those poor fauna and deer sleeping out back running for their lives. You'll wake the dead, you will!" Margaret said responding to Susannia.

"Wake the dead? You're hardly one to scold me about that. I mean look at the ruckus you caused by your silly book. Frank M. Stine was it? Oh, it's been so long I can hardly remember." Susannia countered.

"Well, you with your silly loom contraption are no better. I mean that thing was pretty much alive if you ask me, though it did not possess the biology one might find on a biped or quadruped. It couldn't even be classified as a ped at all. It was purely an 'it'! Nearly alive or so it would seem though it was made of parts that were n'yer able to breath!" Margaret was quick to parry.

"That depends upon how you'd define the word breath my dear. A thread or pattern might be a breath equivalent to ours for my loom making device. Would not you consider the characters from your nightmare of a book to be without breath? Ironic considering the context of that story." Susannia countered defending her mechanical craftiness.

"Begging your pardon but who are you?" Mila finally worked up the courage to challenge the two apparitions.

"Oh? She's back. Good! She didn't scream after all." Margaret directed herself to Susannia.

"She's fine. We'd better answer her or she'll have those dastardly ghost and demon hunters here in the drop of a feather." Margaret replied.

"Me first. I'm Susannia of Myrlebone, Earl of Lovelace milady." Susannia curtsied for Mila who bowed for her by instinct.

"I guess that leaves myself. I'm Margaret of Somers Town in London (of course). Wife of my beloved Percy. Oh, Percy, I do so miss him. Why didn't you add him to the canvas as well?" Margaret introduced herself.

"Or my William? My dear, it would have been the first we'd had our tangled grasp upon them for such a long time. Oh, how I'd ravish him!" Susannia grinned from ear to ear before batting her eyelashes at Mila innocently.


"You couldn't hope to nearly match what we'd heard from her bedroom only a moment ago!" Margaret put her hands on her hips amazed at Susannia's coyness.

"I have to admit I'm in envy of her. Just a bit though... It's been soooo long..." Susannia's ghostly cheeks visibly flushed.

"So who are you my dear? You must be the one who etched us to this canvas and wall giving us life anew?" asked Margaret.

"...I'm Mila. Mila Rendebelle." Mila replied.

"The Rendebelle must have been your Father's side because I only see a tiny bit of Rendebelle in you my dear. You look to be a bit more Tokugawa. Perhaps Edo? Or even Usumi?" responded Susannia.

"Usumi? I'd say she appears a bit more Ito!" Margaret glared at Susannia.

"She is who she is!" Susannia stood her ground.

"Thank you! Actually, my Father is from Austria. He and my Mother married in Osaka where he met her. She took his name naturally and they had me." Mila responded a little perturbed to have been taken apart so readily by these apparitions.

"You see! I told you that she was Japanian." Susannia held her chin up.

"Japanese! I think you've been tinkering with gears a little too long if you ask me. It does you a bit of good to read a word or two every now and again..." Margaret smirked at her friend and then looked to Mila.

There was a moment's silence before Margaret spoke.

"So is he a graven lord of lustful thoughts? He must be mounds of meat and muscle from the sounds of what I'd heard coming from your bedroom..." Margaret blushed nearly as much as Mila did.

Mila smiled and turned red recalling her ecstasy only moments earlier.

"No. Well... that's... Barris. My love you know. He's special..." Mila replied thinking about him.

"What? You mean he needs tending to? Like the lesser learned maybe? The lesser abled maybe?" Susannia asked.

"Barris? No. He's not special in that way though the disabled are not considered lesser here at all. In fact one of our most learned Scientists is paraplegic. He has limited to no control of his limbs or head muscles yet he's discovered some of the most profound secrets our Universe has held for ages." Mila responded.

"Who? Your Barris?" Margaret seemed amazed.

"No. Not Barris. He hasn't really discovered anything... Though he has discovered many of my most pleasurable zones in a short time... but no. Barris did not discover the secrets of the universe. Unless you'd consider my erogenous zones universal secrets?" Mila said blushing even more.

"Hardly now that you've divulged them so readily." Susannia eyed Mila precariously.

"And you are here for what purpose....?" Mila asked defensively.

Susannia and Margaret looked at each other quizzically.

"We don't know. You painted us." responded Susannia.

"I mean you could have included our Husbands. Our horses. Our estates even. But nooooo. You had to just paint us, our cleavage and perhaps a grotesque smile on our..." Margaret glared at Mila.

"Grotesque?!!! How dare you! Do you know how many weeks it took me to etch the expressions on your faces in that painting?!!!" Mila's fury was apparent in her response.

"What? A week? Maybe two?" Susannia responded folding her arms.

Mila's face held fast.

"Thirty weeks." she replied.

"Thirty?" Margaret confirmed.

"Yes. Twice fifteen. Thrice ten. Hextet five." Susannia smiled glad to have confounded Margaret for the first time in two hundred years.

"That's longer than I mulled over my wedding gown. It's certainly longer than my lust life with Percival. But far less than I spent with quill and ink whilst writing my coup de gras!" Margaret's chin shot up with confidence.

"...and nearly as long as I'd considered the design of the gear I eventually had to hand mill myself... after I'd hand milled the tools to mill the gear in the first place for my loom making device..." Susannia contemplated Mila's dilemma.

"So it appears that we are of like minds. Like obsessions?" Mila asked the ghosts.

"What? Are you saying I'd spend thirty weeks obsessing over the smiles of two Women who died two hundred years prior? For thirty weeks nonetheless?" asked Margaret.

"Likewise?" Susannia confirmed with Mila clearly above the lure.

"No. But Margaret, you'd spend nearly two years writing Frank..." Mila started.

"Yes, it was." Margaret replied reminiscing.

"Or that you'd spend nearly your whole life creating the loom making device and working with Charles on the Mind Engine." Mila's shyly smiled as if in the midst of stars.

Susannia blushed.

"Oh, it was nothing really. I was so enamored of Charles though. Such a deft and charming Man. We were so entwined in the inner workings of the numerical apparatus. It was a splendid time." Susannia mired over her life's work reminiscing.

"I see her point. Or perhaps better putfloor wax paint. Pun intended I do so mean." Margaret thought about it.

"She's of a like mind and means. Why I do believe we've met a like soul? A like mind?" Susannia queried Margaret.

"I'd say, but only because we have!" Margaret replied.

"Then I'd say well met." Susannia curtsied once again for Mila as did Margaret.

That was how they met. Ultimately just a month after Mila's encounter with the Power Lord in the warehouse down on the main intersection of Alivale.

"Transylvania?!!!" Mila exclaimed.

"You don't have to go there. That's where your friend was calling us from." Susannia cupped her hands over her mouth as is amplifying herself.

"Summoning I think would be more the word for a Woman of her calling..." Margaret chose her words carefully.

"Bella! You mean Bella. The Gypsy?" Mila asked.

"Yes! Now you're thinking! You remember! She personally requested your presence from a distant place... though she's not in Transylvania." Susannia rested her chin on her hand.

"Well? Where is she?" Mila asked her stomach grumbling.

"Mila? Are you alright honey?" Barris yelled from the top of the stairs.

"Everything is fine sweetie! Just a minute more luvvy lips." Mila replied drawing a quizzical look from Susannia and Margaret.

"Alright. I'll be in bed. I've got your favorite massage oil ready..." Barris tried to sound seductive instead sounding like a poetically literate spokesperson for floorwax.

"Alright honey..." Mila replied seductively.

"Massage oil? What are you doing up there? Can I rent him for a week?" Susannia asked Mila.

"Never! So where is Bella?" Mila responded defensively.

"She's in a place of eternal falling water... a symbol of fertility and the female sensuality of abundance... the distant land of... Niagara Falls!" Margaret clasped her temples as she appeared to channel the knowledge of Bella's location.

[Saturday April 15, 2017 4:01 PM Updates and additions proceeding and preceding]

"How...? What is she doing there? I mean when Barris and I last saw her she was just getting set up as a fortune teller in Transylvania." Mila asked very much surprised.

"Well I haven't the slightest as to why she'd have gone to Niagara." replied Susannia playing coy.

"I mean it's only one of the largest tourist attractions in the West not to mention a natural wonder of the world where many couples go to... how would you say? Consummate their relationships?" Margaret continued from where Susannia left off.

"What better place for a Gypsy fortune teller to set up her business than the place where so many people start their lives together?" Susannia paused, a wide smile stretched seemingly ear to ear.

"I'm sure it can wait. Can't it? I mean Barris and I were just about to..." Mila was cut off in mid sentence.

"Who are you talking to Mila? Are you on the phone? If it's your Mum, tell her I said hello and send her my love. If it's Shaela, you tell her she needs to get a play toy for that giant cat of hers. On our last adventure, her cat purposely tore my clothing right down to my knickers! If it's Sato, don't tell him that the Bonsai tree he gifted us is on its last legs... Hurry up! The massage oil is getting cold..." Barris yelled down from the top of the stairs.

"Alright, honey! I'll be up in a minute! Keep it warm for me!" Mila leaned around the corner and yelled up the stairs to Barris.

"Not even married and you can't tell him that you're talking to two ghosts?" Margaret asked Mila crossing her arms.

"Well, we haven't ascertained that you are in fact ghosts per se but possibly some residual magic left over from a prior artful incantation I might have accidentally imbued upon the canvas from which you've emerged." Mila explained to them.

"Mila, you need to go see Bella! And soon!" Susannia responded her hands now on her hips.

"I said no! I will consider your demands tomorrow after I've enjoyed the rest of my night with Barris. That's final!" Mila replied her tone lacked amusement of any sort as she began towards the stairs.

"You heard the girl. She wants to enjoy her night with Barris." Margaret shrugged her shoulders as if giving in to Mila's demands.

"Then we give her a night with Barris. A night to remember?" Susannia verified with Margaret.

"I mean you can't stop a Lady when she knows what she wants, can you?" Margaret agreed.

"Unless she isn't aware that she doesn't know what she wants..." Susannia countered.

"You sly girl you. I guess that could be. So I suppose that we should do something about it?" Margaret narrowed her eyes at Susannia in disbelief of her craftiness.

"Let's." nodded Susannia.

They both simultaneously waved their hands in front of their faces leaving a trail of water-like sparkles resembling a river's run just before the drop into the grand falls themselves.

Mila continued up the stairs momentarily feeling dizzy part of the way up. She felt a tug from within her core and a moment of sickness which quickly subsided. She then continued up the stairs determined to get to the bedroom and spend the rest of the night with Barris. It was when she arrived on the landing that she realized that she was not in her own home anymore. She was somewhere distant in fact had no idea of where she was at all.

She was indoors for certain and there seemed to be a flurry of activity at the bottom of the stairs which had turned into an elaborate spiral with bronze railings and a marble floor landing.

"Where am I?" she asked herself out loud.

"Are you lost, Miss? Perhaps I can be of help." asked a man dressed in a bellhop uniform.

"No. I mean yes. Where are we?" Mila asked sounding confused.

"We're on the second-floor landing. The restaurant is just over there and the elevators that way. Would you like me to take you somewhere?" he asked politely.

"Thank you but I should be alright. I'm feeling a bit ill and faint. What is this place?" Mila asked looking spooked.

"We're in the Niagara Grand Hotel. Would you like me to take you to our in-house Doctor?" he asked her.

"No thank you. I'll be alright. Thank you again." Mila replied appearing to be in shock.

"Very well. Have a nice evening Miss." the bellhop left her.

"Susannia. Margaret. What have you done?!" she cursed under her breath.

...

Barris crossed the room towards the bedroom door in his loose fitting boxer style gauchies with the opened bottle of massage oil in hand.

"What is keeping her?! We had this planned all day!" Barris said allowed obviously frustrated and impatient.

Maybe she wanted him to come find her. Perhaps she was more affine to having their little playtime in the living room or den. The kitchen maybe? He grabbed the handle of the door which somehow felt different than the bedroom doorknob with which he'd become accustomed. He pulled the door open yelling ahead of him.

"Mila... I'm going to count to three. When I'm done, I'm going to come down there and find you. When I do, we're going to have our romantic massage oil evening and make love right there on the spot!" Barris yelled trying to sound seductive instead sounding impatient and pragmatic.

He was shocked to find that he was not looking at their upstairs hall but instead what appeared to be the somewhat populated carpeted hallway of a large luxury building. The patrons, many of whom were well dressed stopped to look at Barris in his under shorts. He dropped the massage oil as he realized that he was not in his own home.

"No need for alarm. I'm just looking for my... girlfriend. You see we were just in our own home and... now I'm not there. I'm in this place...? Where ever this place is... Ok. Be calm. I'm going to go back in there, where ever there is. Alright?" Barris assured the patrons who appeared to be just as embarrassed as he was.

He turned to step back through the doorway slipping and upending his feet completely on the floor which was now slippery with massage oil. He landed on his back upon the carpeted floor momentarily winded. A few of the patrons started towards him.

"Are you alright Sir?" one of them asked.

"...Wait... don't come near me..." Barris struggled back to his feet carefully.

He slipped again just barely catching himself before falling.

"It's alright. I'm Ok. Thank you very much. I'll be going. In there." Barris gestured to the door continuing his way back through the door from whence he'd arrived.

Barris closed the door behind him getting a good look at the room. It appeared to be a hotel room from the look of it much like a self-contained apartment.

"Hmmm. Now how did this happen? Why does it always happen when I'm in my undergarments?" Barris asked aloud hoping Mila would walk through the door with an explanation.

He ran for the drawers of the desk looking through it for some hint of where they were. He found a sewing kit with the words: Niagara Falls Star Hotel. He continued looking through drawers until he found the information package, a small folder with a local directory and all of the calling information he'd need to know where he was.

"Well, I guess I can rule out another dimension thankfully." Barris looked around the room spying that the television was a modern large screen LCD display.

"...and another time." he said thoughtfully.

Barris picked up the phone and dialed zero. A moment later the operator came on the line.

"How can I help you?" she said in a friendly voice.

"Operator, can you dial the following number..." he said giving her the home number of Mila's house in Alivale.

The phone rang for two minutes solid without being picked up.

"I guess she got whisked away too..." he said aloud picking up the phone once again and asking the operator to dial Mila's cellular.

The cellular phone rang for some time from inside their home right beside the landline phone on their night table. Nobody answered and Barris hung up.

"Alright. She doesn't have her phone with her. Now what?" he asked himself.

"Ah Ha!" Barris said in a moment of brilliance.

He ran into the bathroom and found a beautifully clean fluffy white house coat and a pair of freshly packaged slippers. He threw the house coat on and sat on the edge of the tub, unwrapping and putting on the slippers.

"Don't worry my love! I'm coming to rescue you!" Barris said with focus and confidence as he stepped out the hotel room door.

A moment later he was on his back having slipped in the massage oil again.

"...why?" he muttered from his back.

...

"Because I was on shift at the Sanctum!" Shaela exclaimed to Mila.

"So you mean you ended up here because you were shifted at the Sanctum?" Mila asked Shaela.

"Well, whenever your crazy hair-brained situations seem to arise I'm the one usually on shift at the Sanctum. Do you think that I'd be here, at a one armed bandit trying my luck and fortune? You'd more likely find me at a Cat sanctuary than here." Shaela answered.

"Then why are you here?" Mila asked Shaela.

Mila paused for a moment to think about Shaela's explanation. Shaela'd been pacing the high point of the Sanctum when all of the sudden - she was in a Casino.  She'd seen the cat's eyes on the dashboard of the slot machine. She scoffed at them at first. Then the urge to test her luck. The luck of a lady who'd always landed on her feet despite how you'd dropped her. She instinctively pulled as the machines had drawn their customers to do. No fortune had come up but Shaela had broken even. So her Cat luck was certainly present. She'd pulled the arm of the one armed bandit again and again and...

Mila had suddenly arrived snapping her out of the need to do so.

"There's something desperately wrong." Mila had appealed.

"You're right. For me there is. I'm more of a roulette kind of gal." answered Shaela.

"That's not what I meant." Mila responded sharply.

"I thought you'd be a bit more lucky for me at the one armed bandits..." Shaela spoke into her purse.

A miniature version of Shaela's Shadow Cat peeked out of her purse.

"Is that who I think it is?! Why is it so small?" Mila asked Shaela.

"I can summon it either big or small you know. It can even change size itself though no bigger than its natural size." Shaela replied as her shrunken Shadow Cat peeked its head out of her purse.

"How does that compare to its natural habitat?" Mila asked.

"Not very well seeing as there are no naturally occurring purses in the Shadow Plane!" Shaela replied sarcastically.

"This is a little bit bizarre and dream like. I'd never have expected to find you here in reality." Mila said flabberghasted.

"Well, I never expected to be whisked off from my home through a planar portal to a Casino. At least we were both well clothed." Shaela responded reaching almost automatically for the arm of the one-armed bandit.

She hesitated and after a long struggle spoke.

"One more." Shaela said pulling the arm down in one clean yank.

A row of gold bars illuminated the feedback display and coins began erupting happily from the machine.

"Alright, Kitty. You've earned your keep." Shaela said planting a kiss on its head.

The mini-Shadow Cat looked to Shaela with its glowing red eyes and let out a somewhat loud and rambunctious meow.

"Now we've got some money. Let's find out where we are and make this situation right." Shaela said to Mila as they both gathered the coinage from the Casino floor.

...

Barris being an astute but clumsy fellow had eventually gotten to his feet amidst the oil slick before the hotel room door. Humbled by his initial experience leaving the hotel room he'd sat in bed rethinking his plan. There were often many complications in a relationship with a Wytch. He'd known that from the beginning and had embraced it wholeheartedly before he'd fully understood the ramifications. One such detriment at least from his point of view was that during their adventures, he'd often find himself teleported to the middle of nowhere in nothing more than his evening gauchies. He'd contemplated this often and wondered perhaps that the powers that be might actually have a sense of humor. He then would go on to wonder how funny they'd find it if their mutual predicaments were reversed. Assuming of course that such powers, in fact, did wear gauchies at all. He accepted the fact that was something of which he would likely never be sure. In the end, he was more grateful of what he didn't know than he was of what he was sure. Some things in life were just meant to keep us wondering.

Having returned to the interior of the room he rationalized that he should call home, leave a message should Mila check their messages from where ever she was. On his message he'd given all the tidbits of information he'd learned about his location and that he'd call home again in precisely one-half hour. It was at that moment during his contemplation that there was a light but firm knock at the hotel room door.

Barris got off the bed and slipped his feet into the slippers he'd managed from the hotel room bathroom kit. He headed over to the door checking the digital peephole. It was a bald man with a large and fluffy twisted moustache wearing a jacket and bow-tie. His nose covered a good part of the real estate in the middle of his face.

"Hello? Who is it?" Barris yelled from the other side of the door unsure if he was registered as the guest for this room.

"It's the Hotel Concierge. I have an urgent message for a Mister Barris who is supposed to be occupying this suite at this time." the Concierge spoke with perfect eloquence.

Barris puzzled for a moment evaluating his options. A moment later he opened the door smiling as if nothing were out of place.

"Ahhh. A message. Good. I was expecting this very message. Yes indeed." Barris responded rubbing his hands together greedily.

"Here you go, Sir. Please sign here." the Concierge presented Barris with a golden pen.

"Heh... Nice pen. I should hope so at this very expensive place. I mean I paid good money for my room here, yessirree! So the least you could present me with is a good pen for signing urgent messages like this one that I was very much expecting. Good job!" Barris said handing the pen and signed receipt back to the Concierge.

Barris slipped back inside the room before the Concierge could utter another word. Barris looked at the envelope he'd received just as he heard a crash just outside of the hotel room door.

He opened the door and saw the Concierge on the carpet having slipped in the massage oil slick.

"I'm sorry but some buffoon seems have had an oil wreck at my front door here. Let me help you to your feet." Barris held out his hand helping the Concierge to his feet.

"Don't worry Sir. We'll have this cleaned for you right away." the Concierge responded.

"Oh and by the way. You wouldn't happen to have tuxedo rentals here, would you? My clothing seems to have not arrived. Probably on another flight. Could I rent a tuxedo of about your size temporarily?" Barris asked pushing his luck.

"Very well Sir. I will charge it to your room." the Concierge replied steadying himself.

"YES!... I mean yes. Alright. Thank you. Good day to you." Barris watched for the Concierge to clear the slick safely before closing the door.

"Aha! My luck seems to have changed considerably!" Barris said checking his face in the bathroom mirror.

"Let's rescue Mila. In style." he said to himself in the mirror as he tore open the message.

Dear Barris,

I knew you would be in the room. You know how? Well, thats what I do. I'm a Gypsy. I read palms. Tarot. Tea reading. Psychic Advice. You name it. I had to let you know that you and your friends are in grave danger. You must meet me at my shop on the Niagara Strip at The Gypsy Wayfarer. It is about six blocks north of your hotel along the Niagara strip. You can't miss the sign. Wait. You could miss the sign. After all let's be honest, this is Niagara Falls. My sign is the only sign without lights but I did try to paint it with glowing paint. Perhaps once we talk we could arrange to have Mila make it look nicer? Talk soon...

Signed your dear friend,

Bella The Gypsy

"What is she doing in Niagara? Wait. What am I doing in Niagara?" Barris said aloud to himself.

He pocketed the room key card and stepped out the door. With his first step, he slipped on the wet carpet and fell with a thud onto his rump.

...

Nelony had awoken early in her posh residence on the west coast. Her daily routine had been pretty much the same since she'd started her schooling at the Sanctum and had continued much the same after her graduation. She'd owned a small flower shop which operated five days a week throughout the year. During the weekends she'd commit her time to her duties at the Sanctum resuming her life as the flower shop lady upon returning.

She turned to spy her bedside clock noting the time to be twelve thirty ante meridiem.

"That's strange. I hardly feel tired and I have to wait six hours to get ready." Nelony thought aloud.

Her pet budgie chirped loudly from its perch in her room.

"And what is your problem Reginald?" she asked the bird.

"Chrrrp. Tweeltl. Twirrrt. Chirp."  Reginald chirped and squawked a few times for her and she nodded back to her little friend.

"Yes. I know. I can feel it too. There's something very strange going on." Nelony replied to the little bird.

"Chaauwp. Twirt?" Reginald asked.

"No. It's not lack of sleep." Nelony replied.

"Teeereewt. Toot. Tooortl?" Reginald side stepped across his perch.

"I'm not hungry. You just asked me that so I'd ask you if you were hungry didn't you?" Nelony asked accusingly.

"Pweep Pwoop." Reginald replied hopping across its perch in the direction from whence it had come.

Nelony looked at the little bird for a moment before breaking down.

"Alright. I'll get you a snack. But just a little." Nelony said finally breaking down.

She stepped out of bed still wearing her favorite flannel pajamas and put her slippers on. Reginald quickly flew to her shoulder where it safely perched as she descended the stairs to the main floor. She went to the cupboard and retrieved a half eaten seed cake, still in its wrapper. She delicately unwrapped it and broke a small piece off for Reginald who accepted it from her fingers.

"Feel better?" Nelony asked Reginald.

"Twup!" Reginald let out a proud chirp.

She pocketed the seed cake and began towards the stairs. As she walked through the doorway between the kitchen and the main floor hall she felt a static tingle from head to toe. An instant later she was no longer in her home but in the midst of a gathering of people. Each of them still as statues.

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore Toto..." Nelony said to Reginald on her shoulder.

"Chwip Teert. Twee. Twirp. Chip. Tooort. Weee." Reginald responded.

"I know we don't live in Kansas. It's a figure of speech taken from a movie." Nelony explained the Reginald.

"Twirtwirt weert. Chirt Chip Choort." Reggie said hopping from one leg to the other.

"Alright. Just don't poop on me." Nelony said as Reginald disappeared into the quiet of the shadows for a moment before returning swiftly to her shoulder.

"All better?" she asked Reginald.

"Twup!" Reginald replied happily.

She looked around the dimly lit room at the statue-like figures surrounding her.

"I don't think they're alive." she said examining them each as she passed between them.

"Twirt Iwt. Errt. Chwerp." Reginald said flying to an extruded wall-mounted light switch.

"Yes. I'd like to be able to see a little better if you could." Nelony agreed with Reginald's idea.

The little bird pecked at the switch a couple times and the room was suddenly flooded with light.

"I think they're mannequins. Maybe? They certainly look life-like." Nelony said to Reginald as the little bird returned to her shoulder.

They both paused when they heard a noise from the other end of the room. Nelony and Reginald looked at one another. Nelony finally proceeded in the direction of the noise.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" she asked aloud approaching the mannequin that appeared to be the source of the sound.

She approached it and looked closely at its face.

"This one looks remarkably like..." Nelony began as she touched its face with her hand.

"That's because it is Sato! I didn't know it was you. When I heard you the first time I just thought it might be safe to hide until I knew more." Sato turned somewhat surprised to see Nelony.

"I take it that means you don't know where we are?" Nelony asked him.

"Maybe we're in a mannequin factory?" Sato said sarcastically.

"They look a little too realistic to be mannequins." Nelony noted.

"Well, this is certainly a storage room of some kind." Sato said looking Nelony over.

"It's good to see you're dressed for the occasion." Sato said again with his biting sense of humor.

"Well some of us don't wear pajamas all day you know." Nelony responded defensively.

"I am not wearing pajamas. I am wearing a hakama and gi. There's a big difference. The fact that they are also comfortable for sleeping is just a coincidence." Sato said adjusting his gi.

"Well, my pajamas are comfortable for more than just sleeping. Not to mention that it's not like I got a notice before I was whisked off to this place. I didn't exactly have time to change." Nelony looked herself over making sure her blouse was buttoned.

"Chweeturp!" Reginald added.

"At least you weren't on the yōkei-ba halfway through your favorite book when you were whisked away..." Sato said retrieving a book of Haiku from his pocket.

"Yōkei-ba?" Nelony confirmed she'd heard Sato correctly.

"Uhhh... How do you say? The loo. The latrine. The toilet." Sato said thinking about it carefully.

"I'm sorry to hear. I'm even more glad that I didn't arrive before you." Nelony said somewhat relieved.

"You'd have likely seen a second moon rise if you did." Sato responded pocketing his book.

"On that note lets see if we can't get that door open and find the first one." Nelony said pointing to the door.

[Update Friday June 30, 2017 9:26PM EST]

Onward To Bella's

Barris despite being dressed very dapperly in a courtesy tuxedo care of the hotel he'd just left and smelling of the lavender massage oil he'd only twenty minutes ago slipped upon, felt out of place on the Niagara strip. He'd often felt this way without Mila. Like he was missing part of himself. Better put he was himself before having met her. Directionless and incomplete. Mila had somehow filled in that missing part that he'd been lacking his whole life. She'd admitted to feeling the same way to him. On a night of heavy after sex pillow talk. They'd spent the night conversing in their after sex high. There were no sweet nothings as Mila nor Barris took anything about their relationship for granted. They were a part of one another. They would never be the same without each other and this was not so much dependency as it was completeness.

The answer to tonight's mystery lay with Bella and according to the directions he'd received she was only a block away. The mysterious and enigmatic fortune teller that she was. Having lived through an encounter with one of Vlad the Impaler's descendants in his very Castle in Transylvania a hop, skip and jump from Romania. Just as she had been before, she was the missing link in this current mystery alight within the marriage capital of the world. Barris had at first noticed the symbolism involved in this coincidence. He'd only been arguing with Sato a few nights before about the whether he should propose to her or not. Sato had been supportive but ultimately respected that the choice was that of Barris. Only months before in a similar situation, they'd ended up in Transylvania where he'd had to risk all for her love. He'd felt whole. Relieved as if he'd proven his worth of her. A rite of passage as it were.

This time the symbolism was a bit more... invasive? Barris pondered the what the symbol of the great falls were as he walked uncomfortably to Bella's. Was Mila pregnant? The falls had been a great symbol of fertility to the early indigenous peoples of North America. That symbol had been carried on by the tourism establishment who'd played upon that aspect for the commerce that it might bring. He thought momentarily about a miniature Mila or Barris running around their house in Alivale and snickered. He then shuddered.

"A dad? Wow!" Barris asked himself aloud.

"I beg your pardon sir did you say you were looking for a cab?" one of the passersby addressed him.

"No thank you. I don't need a cab. Just enjoying an evening stroll. I was just thinking about my wife to be and how I've been looking furtile... I mean for a while." Barris quickly corrected himself.

The patron looked at him peculiarly and backed off defensively.

"Look sir! I just tried to help. No need to bring your sex life into this..." the man said holding his hands up in defense.

"My sex life? How dare you! My wife to be is more fertile than a frisky bunny at a rabbit convention!" Barris burst out loud defensively.

The patron Barris had just addressed sought a quick escape running down a side street.

Barris then looked down at his pants to notice that his broom closet was partly open. He quickly zipped his fly up in the cover of a storefront and then continued walking towards Bella's.

Someone walked by him and spat:

"Pervert!" the old lady spoke as she passed him.

"This night just seems to get more and more interesting. I'm sure that Sato would love to have caught this in person." Barris mumbled as he closed the remaining distance between himself and Bella's Shop.

...

"Couldn't you talk to the animals or something like that? Maybe ask them where we are or something else to make yourself useful?" Sato asked Nelony as the two of them ascended a flight of stairs.

They'd managed to get out of the storage room and had stumbled their way through a dark passage past a freight elevator (which seemed not to be functioning) and to a stairwell.

"Well Karate man. I don't see you doing anything to make yourself useful. Perhaps if we were being attacked by an army of wooden planks you could karate chop them in half for us?" Nelony reponded offended by Sato's comment.

"Karate? Do you realize that is like saying sports man? It encompasses so many different ways of combat, perhaps as many as there are different sports. I mean there's Shotokan, Heian, Goju Karate Do etcetera... I hope you understand what I am saying. To correct your ignorance, I am a practitioner of a few different arts altogether which form up the original Japanese Bujutsu." Sato responded cool and casual as they ascended the stairs together.

"Well take the same attitude and apply it to animals. I mean animals have their own lives you know! They have responsibilities and schedules just like us people. So you think they'd just drop their meaningless meandering just to help a few hapless people like us? Well I'll tell you that we've got to earn it!" Nelony responded harshly.

"What, you mean a bug couldn't take ten seconds out of its day crawling around on the floor eating table scraps and mildew to tell us where we are?" Sato shot back clearly not understanding Nelony's abilities.

"Bugs have no idea about human things. In fact most animals and insects don't even have words about things related to human things. To them we are a complete mystery. In fact their word for human houses translates to not known. The same phrase used by every animal or insect to describe anything related to the places people inhabit. Squirrels and Chipmunks refer to people as either Walking Food Bags or No Time For Animals." Nelony advised Sato.

"Quiet! I think my Karate just told me something useful! More so than your animals." Sato replied to Nelony.

"What? Like Hiya?!" Nelony made a karate chopping sound towards his bum.

"No! My Karate told me not to listen to one who follows the ass of another!" Sato responded.

"So you're admitting you're an ass? This is progress. Even if I had a mule here with us it would likely agree." Nelony replied.

"I hear nothing but Barris' vulgar influence upon you my dear!" Sato reminded Nelony.

"So what did you find?" Nelony responded somewhat stung by the mention of Barris' name.

"That we are at the top of the stairs before a door." Sato replied.

"Well? Is it locked?" Nelony asked Sato.

"No." Sato said as he turned the knob hearing the latch click.

Sato pulled the door open to see what appeared to be another darkened but strategically lit room populated by well attired people who appeared to be standing motionless.

"No. It can not be." Sato stated more to himself than to Nelony as he closed the door again.

"What? Now you've got me curious dammit!" Nelony shot back.

"I just looked into a room with Margaret Thatcher, Liberace, Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger." Sato replied.

"Step aside Sato! You're not going to mess up my only chance to meet Mrs. Thatcher!" Nelony pushed Sato aside nearly stepping on him as she dashed for the door.

...

The lights in the Casino bedazzled him from his cozy place at the black jack table. He marveled at the display of glamour and pizazz as he weighed his options. He'd had three cards up. An eight of diamonds, a five of spades and a two of clubs.

"Fifteen showing." the dealer announced to the man who tweaked his handlebar mustache.

The bow tied mustachioed man bent the edge of his hidden card up for show. He did not need to see what it's value was but instead needed to impress upon others that it mattered to him. The truth was that it didn't.

He looked to the dealers hand whose visible sum was nineteen. A ten of clubs, a three of diamonds and a six of clubs.

"Hit, please." the man said calmly to the dealer tapping the table.

The dealer dealt a card from her deck face up on the table. It was a five of hearts.

"It would appear the odds are against me?" the man addressed the dealer.

She turned up her hidden card. An ace of clubs.

"The house has twenty." she spoke showing no emotion.

The mustachioed man turned up his card revealing an ace of diamonds.

"Twenty one. You win." the dealer responded somewhat surprised by his good fortune.

The mustachioed man swept his chips back to his side of the table and pocked his stack.

"Hi gorgeous. What's you name?" a beautiful blond haired bombshell pressed herself against his shoulder.

"My dear lady, you may call me Chance." he replied to her admiring her hourglass figure.

"Well then, I guess you could call me Opportunity but that part depends upon you..." she spoke confidently into his ear.

"Then you're someone I'd certainly never want to miss!" he said twisting his mustache for her and dropping ten chips into her purse.

"Miss? Why you'll be on your knees begging for me not to leave before the night's through..." Opportunity smiled for Chance.

"My dear. You'll won't be leaving anytime too soon or my last name isn't Fortune." he smiled revealing a golden tooth by which his tongue passed to kiss her.

...

Mila and Shaela left the Casino which connected up to the front lobby of the hotel. The night was getting warmed up at just before the midnight hour. Many guests chosen to schmooze in the relative peace of the border between the Casino and hotel lobby. Mila and Shaela pushed gently through the wall of guests and found themselves in the lobby just towards the base of the grand staircase.

"I'll get another copy of my room key and then I'll take you back to my room. I've left a message for Barris on our answering machine at home. When he gets it he'll contact us." Mila suggested half dragging Shaela towards the hotel front desk.

"What if Barris doesn't call?" Shaela suggested.

"While we're waiting we can try a scrying incantation to see if we can locate him." Mila responded.

"At least its a start." Shaela replied shrugging her shoulders.

They arrived at the front desk and shortly thereafter left with a copy of Mila's room key for Shaela.

Across the lobby Mr. Fortune had just left the Casino with the beautiful Ms. Opportunity on his arm. She clung tightly to him as if they'd been lovers for some time, yet they'd only met moments ago.

Fay Rizzo (aka Ms. Opportunity as per her nom du plume given to Mr. Fortune) had struggled for most of her life. Having run away from home at the still tender age of sixteen, she'd learned to swindle and hustle her whole life. By the time she'd turned twenty four she had sprouted into an attractive and seductive Woman. She'd managed to stay away from selling her self to members of the opposite sex, just barely. By her twenty fifth birthday she had become a regular at the Casinos. She never asked for money but the men in her company often offered and she would often accept. After all she somehow had needed to pay for lavish four thousand dollar a month room in the hotel. Somehow at the end of the month for the last five years she'd managed to stay ahead of the game. She had over a hundred thousand in savings with which she could start a new life. She'd tell herself, just one more gig and I'll start over but she never did. The sweet nothings we sometimes tell ourselves.

Mr. Fortune and Fay started up the stairs together at a leisurely pace.

"So it would seem that despite your poor choices in life that your life has somehow turned out for the better, Ms. Rizzo." Mr. Fortune spoke to her candidly.

"How'd you know my name? Wait! You're not an investigator, are you?" Fay's tone changed drastically to one of defensiveness and misplaced trust.

"Not at all. Don't be silly. Besides, you've never broken the law have you Mr. Rizzo?" Mr. Fortune twisted his moustache with his free hand.

Fay struggled with her words for a moment.

"Who are you? What do you want?" she asked him withdrawing her arm from his.

"I am as I have said Mr. Chance Fortune. And yours has come home to roost so to speak." Mr. Fortune addressed her as they breached the top step.

"What do you mean?" Fay struggled again with her words.

"I mean I would say that there has been some imbalance with your luck wouldn't you say? Like maybe that you're taking more than your fair share?" Mr. Fortune smiled sinisterly showing his gold plated tooth once again.

"What? I've lived my life honestly! I made every penny of my money honestly! So what if I've been with a few men!" Fay shot back defensively.

"It's not the company you choose with which there are grievances. It is quite simply put, your luck. Consider me the cashier and its time to balance the books." Mr. Fortune finished his sentence and turned away from her and strode towards the elevator alone.

"How dare you! I could have just about any man I want! I did it my way and I did it honestly!" Fay raised her voice careful to keep her composure and let it be known she'd been wronged in some way.

Another gentleman would be along, sensing her grief and be ready to provide a shoulder upon which she could comfort her weary head. She turned to take a step back down the stairs. At that precise moment a chain of events occurred that nobody could have predicted. In the annals of the library of cause and effect these events would seem to stand out for their sheer defiance of probability.

Inside of the Casino, an elderly man sat in front of a slot machine dispensing his coins one by one into the hungry machine pulling its handle. He pulled his coins from his pockets without looking accidentally grabbing a nickel instead of a dollar coin. He deposited it into the machine and the machine consumed it somehow missing the bad coin safety feature of the machine. Instead it fell into the machine bouncing several times before triggering a credit for a spin. Finally it slid between an opening just big enough for a nickel jamming the dispensary arm.

The slot machine's bells began ringing as the machine spit out a small fortune in coins. One of the coins left the machine at a peculiar angle thanks to the misplaced nickel which launched the dispensary arm firing the coin off of the metal rim of a barstool rebounding towards one of the other guest's tables.

The coin flew at another man counting his chips at that table, barely missing him instead spilling his drink all over his winnings. He looked around for a towel of some sort, spying one wrapped around the neighbouring table's champagne caddy and ice bucket. He snuck over the caddy and took the towel while the couple seated there were distracted with each other. He then began drying the chips one by one.

"Let's have a glass of that wonderful champagne, darling." the lady picked up her champagne glass from the table handing it to her newlywed husband.

"Of course. For you, the world." he replied looking for the towel.

"What happened to our towel?" the husband replied looking startled.

"I'm getting impatient..." his wife smiled sliding her foot halfway up his leg under the table.

"Oh to heck with it. I can open it without..." the man said twisting the cork on the bottle of champagne careful to aim it upwards away from his wife as she eagerly awaited their honeymoon nectar.

The cork flew like a gunshot upwards towards the magnificent chandelier hitting one of the crystals directly. The crystal was knocked loose by the cork and fell towards the top landing of the staircase. It hit the carpeted floor which absorbed just enough of its momentum to roll back towards the stairs and onto the top step ahead of Fay's foot.

Fay stepped down losing her footing on the crystal and slipped forward out into the space above the stairs, flying like an olympic diver down towards the jagged edge of the stairs.

"Don't you get the feeling like something's wrong?" Mila asked Shaela.

"I thought it was pretty obvious. We've somehow been magically teleported to a Casino hundred if not thousands of miles from our homes. Barris is gone too though this sort of thing seems to have him written all over it. I mean didn't this happen just last year to you two?" Shaela responded with scathing sarcasm.

"If you're talking about our unexpected trip to Transylvania last year, I'd have to say yes. So in a way I guess its normal but that wasn't what I was talking about. I mean like there's something strange about the Aether in here? Like something's off?" Mila asked Shaela again looking around for anything out of place.

"Hmmm. I wasn't paying attention. I could check with my shadow cat..." Shaela barely had enough time to finish her words before Mila had sprung forward onto the first step of the stairs her hands already part way through her weave.

Shaela spied a Woman near the top of the stairs falling through space and about to crash down onto the stairs in what would likely be her last trip up or down them. As Mila's finished her weave space began to warp and time slowed to a crawl for everyone except her and Shaela.

"That's a neat trick. Good for this situation." Shaela rushed over to Mila who was nearly out of breath.

"That was a close one though you'd probably have to thank Salvatore Dali for that one." Mila spoke catching her breath.

"Oh, you mean his rendering of Time." Shaela asked.

"Yes. You have the right painting except that it's called The Persistence Of Memory. It seemed to work for this situation in a visually symbolic sense." Mila replied as she made her way up the stairs.

In front of them Fay was stopped in mid air face first her arms stretched out before her like a superhero, a look of horror and impending doom on her face.

"Now what?" asked Shaela.

"We can move her, but very carefully. Let's get her back to the top of the stairs and towards the elevators." Mila suggested.

"Alright. Let's do it." Shaela reached up and helped Mila drag Fay back up the stairs and onto the landing.

Pulling her through the air was akin to mixing a candied apple through caramel. They struggled for the last few steps before orienting Fay upon her feet.

"When I cease this spell she'll have all of the momentum she had back at the stairs. So we need to brace her from falling over." Mila advised Shaela who nodded affirmatively.

Mila's hands twisted and writhed and a moment later time resumed its slow crawl forward.

Fay immediately fell forward into both Shaela and Mila, who had braced her from falling on her face.

"Watch where you're going!" Fay sneered at Mila looking more embarrassed than appreciative.

"Sorry Miss. Have a nice evening." Mila replied cordially.

Fay stormed her way back to the stairs oblivious of the fate from which she'd just been saved.

"Some people just don't know..." Shaela said smirking at Fay as she left.

"And its likely better that way. Let's get back to my room." Mila said heading down the hall towards her room.

They arrived a few minutes later having stumbled around trying to find it. She showed her card to the sensor and the door unlocked.

"Home sweet home?" Shaela asked her jokingly.

"Close enough for now." Mila replied as they stepped into her room.

Sitting in a chair in the corner was a peculiar looking man. His handle bar moustache and tuxedo made him appear like a charming caricature.

"Mila Rendebelle. Now you've gone and interfered in my business once again. Fay had unpaid debts of fortune which have left the Aether a bit of a mess. Surely you must have known you were dabbling in something you shouldn't?" Mr. Fortune queried Mila looking though to them both as he spoke.

"Who are you and what are you doing in my room?" Mila asked the man as Shaela readied a spell.

"I've come to collect on a debt of good fortune that it seems that you owe the Plane Worlds and the Aether. I'm sure it hasn't slipped you. That necklace and pendant you wear so dearly around your neck? The key to keeping your heart from breaking in a manner of speaking." Mr. Fortune spoke twisting his moustache with his right hand.

"What have you done with Barris?" Mila demanded.

...

"B * E * L * L * A  '  S   M * I * S * T * I * C * A * L    E * M * P * O * R * I * U * M" Barris read the letters on the sign aloud.

The sign was obviously Bella's best effort and a great one it was though far from the mark. Her effort spoke of her ambition and her limited budget, both pronouncedly. The sign was hand painted very obviously by roller and though it looked fairly good from a distance, it was a horrible mess close up. Barris being a close friend of hers took note of her ambition first while leaving enough room for his sarcasm later at some point more equitable and humorous.

"I'd say there's a good chance that this is Bella's place judging by the innovative spelling of mystical." Barris quipped to himself sarcastically before entering.

As the door opened Barris heard a reverberating set of chimes clanging from somewhere deep within Bella's Emporium. He admired her handiwork almost immediately having worked at Sato's shop for years. Barris could smell the sweet scent of a variety of teas and flavoured coffees emanating from within along with the scent of fine incense. As he entered the shop his vision was presented with a table of fine craftsmanship and chisel work housed in the north east corner upon which Bella's Crystal Ball sat. It was perched atop an elaborate gold base which bore the glyphs of a language which Barris could not recognize despite his time at Sato's shop.

To each side of his step towards the table and ultimately into Bella's shop there were book shelves filled with mystical and ancient texts of which many were Romanian in origin, accompanied in stride by a variety of other works from sources globally and perhaps a few from beyond if one should so care to speculate. Barris stopped to examine one that had caught his eye.

"What? She's got the Exhibeth Tome Of Zargot? Sato looked for this for years during his adventuring days. He gave up..." Barris spoke aloud as a familiar voice cut in.

"...after traveling for five months through the worst Romanian winter for over one hundred and fifty nine years he turned back. He would have kept going if he'd have known that he was only fifteen miles from the Castle which held the Sacred Monastery of the Exhibeth where of course the text was housed or how you say? Berried?" Bella had snuck up behind him.

"Yes. Buried." Barris said reaching out to his beloved friend.

She returned the hug amorously.

"How are you my friend? You are looking... like Mila has been feeding you?" Bella commented on his slight (he'd convinced himself) weight gain.

"Bella you look great!" Barris responded truthfully. "Oh well, Mila doesn't eat too often so I've mastered cooking for both of us." Barris responded less so truthfully.

"Oh and likely you've been eating for the both of you too? C'mon. I know you better." Bella responded making up for Barris' lack of sincerity.

"Perhaps we could speak of something else? Perhaps like the reason you teleported me seven hundred miles to Niagara Falls to give me my fortune?" Barris said feeling a little uncomfortable about the weight he'd gained.

"Fortune? You say fortune and you don't know how right you are... You say... I know. Don't tell me..." Bella replied turning towards her front desk and counter.

"Well, your letter said something about..." Barris began searching for the letter in his pockets.

"Would you like coffee, tea or your fortune? I have some Romanian Goat's Milk Liqeur. It goes nice with either tea or coffee." Bella asked her guest.

"No. Errr. I mean yes. To the tea. May I?" Barris answered gesturing to Bella's fortune table.

"Of course. You don't have to ask. Don't ever ask me. So you like liquer from a goat?" Bella asked him.

"Alright. Twist my rubber arm." Barris responded examining the crystal ball.

"Barris. You should never touch things like that unless you have the veil of birth. It is very dangerous." Bella tried to warn him but it was too late.

From within Bella's Crystal Ball Barris spied a mustachioed man in his early forties staring back at him. Barris adjusted his position hoping to get out of his line of sight only to see the man turn his head matching Barris' movements. Barris tried to rationalize this illusion much like the painting whose stare follows those who view it no matter from where they view.

"Is that you Barris? I've heard much about you from Mila. I've been meaning to meet you but I fear that you've been given more time than your fair allowance here. That somehow the odds were unfairly shifted in your favour to live a little longer than was so in the grand design of things. Don't you ever get that feeling?" the man spoke at Barris deliberately keeping his gaze focused unblinkingly upon his target.

Barris was about to answer when Mila's face occupied Bella's Crystal Ball.

"You don't have to answer honey! Don't answer him! He's playing with you!" Mila yelled obviously struggling with all of her magical might to usurp the mustachioed man's place.

"I..." Barris began.

"I know babe. You have to believe in yourself! Don't let him..." Mila said as her voice disappeared replaced by that of the mustachioed man's along with the visage of his face.

"Barris... You have caused oh so much of a mess for us here. Thrown the table you have. Nothing personal chap but you'll know what the right thing is to do. I suggest that you do it..." the mustachioed man's face was replaced with the majestic view of the Niagara Falls.

Barris envisioned himself standing on the edge of an outcropping above the falls. Down from him he could see a veil of clouds and vapor risen from the massive outpouring of the Great Lakes water. He looked up into the sky seeing the constellation of Andromeda. He pondered the significance of his find only lost in puzzlement. Then in a move of desperation and loss of all hope, he stepped out over the outcropping and into the depths of the water cloud. Barris found himself paralyzed, his body chilled to the depth of his bones.

"Barris! You fool! You went and looked! I told you and you went and did it anyway! My gosh! How have you survived this much without me I don't know!" Bella shook Barris by the shoulders trying to snap him out of his stupor.

"I... I... I fell... Over the falls... Mila was there... and a man with a mustache. A long mustache with handlebars." Barris caught himself.

"He is the reason for your being here Barris. Believe me you don't want mess with him. He is the fortune for everyone in the world. He is like the balance keeper. You must have done something to draw him to you. Mila and you." Bella grilled him.

"I didn't do anything! I swear I didn't know that my deck had five aces in it! I swear!" Barris said his guilt on longer containable.

"Huh!? What in the world are you talking about?" Bella asked him completely lost.

"When I was fifteen! I'd just learned to play blackjack. I had a lucky deck. Well at least I thought it was lucky until I found out it had a few extra aces in it! I swear I didn't know! I mean I lost every game with that deck anyway so I did NOT benefit!" Barris swore getting the foul deed off of his chest.

"What are you talking about? No! That's not it!" Bella shot back at Barris.

"Huwow! I've been wanting to get that off my chest for ages! Thank you! So it wasn't that? Hmmm. I don't think that I have anymore guilty memories of that nature. Sorry." Barris responded shrugging his shoulders.

"Then maybe it has something to do with the people that you know..." Bella suggested with an eyebrow raised.

"I understand exactly what you're saying. Wait a second. Are you trying to accuse my friends of giving me that cheaters... <ahem> I mean lucky deck?" Barris responded flabbergasted.

"No! Forget the deck. I mean there is something to do with the people that you know that attracted that man into your life." Bella answered him

"First of all who is this man?" Barris demanded.

"Some call him the luck of the draw. The flip of the coin. A roll of the dice. He goes by the first name Chance. Mr. Chance Fortune." Bella informed Barris as she lit a candle for the table at which they now sat together.

"Chance Fortune? What is he, a debt collector?" Barris asked.

"You could say that, but the debts he collects are of a different variety..." Bella pulled a deck of cards from out a drawer concealed in the edge of the table.

"What, like my phone bill? A past hydro bill?" Barris said growing manic as he pondered the mysterious man's motives.

"What he collects can't be paid in cash, my good friend Barris." Bella responded slowly and deliberately her Romanian accent thickening.

"Does he accept cheques? Credit cards?" Barris urged her for an answer.

"No. He does not accept money Barris." Bella replied as she began shuffling the deck of cards.

"Wait! You're telling me that I'm being hunted by Chance Fortune, a debt collector who has obviously just escaped from the jail on a Monopoly board and that he doesn't accept money in payment! Not only that but he has Mila! Bella, you are scaring me." Barris shot back at her his breath slowing as he caught himself.

"Barris, I'ma going to help you. Don't you worry. You need to take these cards from me. Three of them Barris." Bella laid three cards face down on the table before Barris.

"Bella this is not the time for a game of war." Barris replied turning his cards over.

He looked at them, shocked as they were blank on the other side.

"This is worse than I could have imagined. You mean that I have no fortune. No future!" Barris began approaching the risk of hyperventilation.

"Calm down! You need to stop being such a worry wort Barris. These cards represent your opportunity. Think of them as your guidance to defeat this man and rescue Mila. They will each be revealed to you when you need an answer to a question on your quest to rescue her. You'll need to choose when you use them. You've only three. If you use them wisely you will prevail. Remember Barris, that this man represents the forces of chance in our world. He's the one who polices it when a coin flip turns up many more heads than tails. When the dice turn up too beneficially for one person. When luck has given favour far too much to one person. This is what calls out to Mr. Fortune and he will collect that as a debt. Even how you say...? post humorously?" Bella said fanning her cards facing away from him.

"Let me see them please?" Barris asked her.

"Are you kidding Barris? If I show you now, then what fortune will be possible when you need it? None of the cards that you've seen will be part of your fortune. That's just as bad as knowing what your fortune is now before you need it or can understand it. I cannot show you Barris." Bella insisted passionately her voice stressing the importance of her statements.

"By knowing now I can make a plane." Barris reasoned with her.

"How can you plan for what you do not know or understand?" she asked him.

"How can I understand or know what I don't plan for?" Barris turned her question around without thinking about it.

"There are cases when your reasoning is solid Barris. You are capable far more than you know. This case though is not one of those situations. You must trust me." Bella leaned towards him across the table.

Barris sat for a moment thinking about what she'd told him. It made sense much as Sato's advice often did. He'd have been a fool not to accept and trust hers. This was not the day for that Barris he agreed to himself.

"Alright. Agreed. I'll use the cards when I need them." Barris sighed.

"Not all at once. Each one when a different challenge arises from which you need guidance or an answer. Do you understand?" she put her cards back in the table.

"Yes. I've got it. I think." Barris nodded hesitantly.

"Oh, and Bella. Make sure that nobody else, and I mean nobody sees those cards before you except for me. Make sure that Mr. Fortune does not know about them for he can use your debt in good fortune to turn the cards against you. After all, he is literally Chance." Bella urged him.

"So where do I go next?" Barris asked her.

"Only you can make that choice. Now, would you like a cup of tea, coffee. How about a t-shirt? They're only nineteen ninety nine but I'll give you one for fourteen ninety nine because you're my friend." Bella showed him the t-shirt which depicted the sign she'd painted rendered in a crude graphic upon a t-shirt.

"Bella, we'll discuss that when I return. Until then, you're a wonderful friend and I thank you from the bottom of my heart." Barris stood and pulled her close hugging her affectionately.

"It's so good to see you Barris. I'ma gonna see you too soon again. I know it. Don't ask me how I know. It's just me." Bella replied smiling for him.

"And that's just what I like about you." Barris replied as he turned and left her emporium having pocketed the cards she'd given him.

She watched him leave back up the Niagara strip from the direction he'd come.

...

"Margaret Thatcher is just a doll!" Nelony proclaimed.

"Well she is an attractive Woman but I'm not certain that's the term I'd use with her." Sato replied still brushing himself off after being trod upon by Nelony as she ran through the door to get a gander at Margaret.

"No, that's not what I mean. I mean that she's literally a doll. Like Barbie or Ken." Nelony said moving Margaret's arms up and down.

Margaret's arm pivoted perfectly without any give at her elbows as Nelony clasped the wrists of the figure.

"What are you babbling about? Wait. So is Madonna." Sato said examining her closely finding a well concealed ball and socket joint at her shoulders.

Nelony quickly ran over to Arnold examining his pecks.

"Too bad. Not the real one." she said aloud.

"It would seem that we are in a strange place indeed." Sato mired their circumstances rubbing his jaw.

"Really! What kind of sicko would keep dolls of Margaret Thatcher, Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger?" Nelony posed aloud as she rubbed Arnie's lats.

"There's a label here. Wait. You're not going to believe this..." Sato indicated to Nelony.

"What? This couldn't be any more bizarre, though I've had dreams that began like this." Nelony confessed to Sato.

"It says here: Louis Tussaud's Waxworks, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada." Sato said reading a label affixed to Madonna's back tucked into her dress.

"We're in a Wax Museum?" Nelony asked.

"In Niagara Falls it would seem we have found ourselves." Sato

"What is the significance of Niagara Falls? Why are we here?" Nelony asked Sato hoping his years would lend him more insight than hers.

"That is a good question but more appropriately why did we show up in a wax museum?" Sato once again pondered the significance of that question.

"And are we alone? I mean are any of our friends here. I mean the gifted ones of course." Nelony said adjusting Arnold's jacket for him.

"Well that certainly leaves Barris out." Sato suggested sarcastically.

"How dare you! I'm sure that if we needed rescuing that he'd be the first one to rescue us." Nelony said once again secretly fantasizing about her secret love.

A few blocks down the street from them Barris sat cowering behind a street bench keeping himself hidden from the man who'd just passed him on the sidewalk. He squinted trying to get a look at the man's face as he passed, realizing that it was not Mr. Fortune.

"That's the forth man with a mustache I've seen in the last ten minutes. Where are you now Mr. fancy Chancy pants? Didn't that break the rules of probability in some way you Monopoly reject!? I mean four mustaches in a row!" Barris stood from behind the bench both tempting fate and startling the man who'd just passed him as he yelled aloud.

Back at the wax museum Sato and Nelony found their way to the front door.

"It's locked. We can't leave without locking it again." Nelony affirmed her stance for Sato.

"Alright, then we'll try the back door." Sato said impatiently.

They turned around and headed back into the museum and towards the rear of the building. They'd passed through several rooms full of a variety of celebrities and iconic characters from media and history when Nelony stopped in terror upon looking into another room and sighting a particular wax figure.

"Sato! We can't go through there!" Nelony clutched his hand quickly cutting off the circulation.

"What? Why not! There only..." Sato yanked his hand away from hers.

"I'm terrified of Mimes. I've always been afraid of them!" Nelony said shivering and pulling Sato back urging him to go back the way they'd come.

Sato stood quietly thinking about their predicament looking back in the direction from whence they'd come.

"You have to be kidding me? We just passed Lon Chaney's Mummy, Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, John Landis' American Werewolf in London, Robert Eglund's Freddy Krueger and even Saw! ...and you're telling me that you can't pass through a room full of..." Sato said in complete disbelief.

"You mean it's full of them?" Nelony screamed agonizing over the thought of them.

...

Mr. Fortune sat in the same chair they'd found him in upon entering Mila's hotel room. Shaela's purse sat on the bed sealed shut while Mila sat motionless on the  bed propped up against the wall.

"We'll be discovered. You won't get away with this. They'll come for us." Mila addressed Mr. Fortune.

"I already have gotten away with this as there is nothing to be gotten away with. You are merely experiencing the balancing forces of bad luck to make up for all of the good luck you've either taken from the world for yourself or through your violation of the natural way of things by the use of your magic." Mr. Fortune reminded Mila as he twisted his mustache.

"Magic is the natural way of things." Mila corrected him.

"Which is why you are in the very predicament from which you wish reprieve. There is only one way out of this and I've told you what you have to do in order to be free of the reconciling of imbalance that you've brought upon yourself." he folded his hands on his lap comfortably crossing his legs.

"You know that is never going to happen!" Mila responded sharpening her tone.

"Then you can sit idly as you watch your friends one by one pay for the fact that you've had more than your fair share." Mr. Fortune responded to her tone.

A tiny voice erupted from Shaela's purse.

"Let me out of here at once or my kitty will make mincemeat out of you." Shaela's voice just barely audible.

Mr. Fortune did not move or even acknowledge Shaela's threat but a distinct click could be heard as if the purse's clip had somehow released upon its own.

The flap of the purse unfolded and Shaela, now a little under nine inches tall emerged from her purse.

"I'll get you for this!" Shaela said raising her fist up to Mr. Fortune.

"The reason that you are in that predicament is precisely as a result of you already having tried to get me." Mr. Fortune remained calm.

"I don't know what the odds are of me having mixed up the size growth spell intended to make my cat large enough to contend with you having been miscast as a shrinking spell and hitting me. That is just sheer rubbish. I'll get you!" Shaela said stomping her feet on the bed.

Her shadow cat emerged from the purse beside her, just a little smaller than a horse in comparison to her size.

"Oh, look at the cute little shadow kitten beside that cute little red headed dollie on the bed. What a wonderful picture this would make." Mr. Fortune smiled at his own wit.

Shaela was about to erupt once again before Mila interjected.

"Save you energy Shaela. You don't want to waste it all before you have the satisfaction of smiting this fellow." Mila continued to lay still propped up against the bed.

"By the way, what happened to you with your spell?" Shaela asked Mila.

"I was going to hit him with something that paralyzed him except something went wrong my casting of it and it somehow hit me." Mila answered her only able to turn her eyes to look upon Shaela.

"So what does he want of us? I couldn't hear a thing while I was in my purse. I'll be picking shadow cat fur from my mouth for the next few weeks thank you very much!" Shaela asked curious about the means by which they could be free of this mess.

"Mila will never tell you the answer to that question truthfully Shaela for she's been sparing you and the rest of her friends of a horrible lie she entered into in order to have more than her fair share." Mr. Fortune informed Shaela who smirked back at him.

"I don't trust you one bit." Shaela looked back to Mr. Fortune.

"Then it would appear that we are at an impasse. They'll arrive here sooner or later and we can deal with this whole matter at that time. Until then I suggest that you get comfortable because lady luck is very much working against you my dear." Mr. Fortune informed his two captives.

...

Barris' progress had been painfully slow as he made his way back to the hotel strip. In the time since he'd left the hotel he'd actually forgotten with which hotel he'd been registered. As he'd gotten closer to them, their signs and logos each seemed familiar though he could not sort out from which he'd ventured earlier that evening. It was going on twelve thirty and he finally gave in realizing that he was lost.

"Great Barris. Now you've done it. What now?" he asked himself aloud as if Mila or Sato would appear from nowhere and solve his dilemma for him.

Somehow Barris had always an angel nearby. Someone who'd hold his hand for him whilst crossing one of the many dangerously perilous roads life had presented. Some of his childhood experiences had been an obstruction with him developing a sense of religious belief. A sense that there might have been a higher power or being looking out for the populace of the world other than their own parents. His parents were caring and intuitive and had taught him independence of thought, action and responsibility. Still though he'd always felt that there was something that he'd missed that everyone else had somehow caught onto in their youth. A hidden truth he'd not noticed. A faith that he was unwilling to give until he'd met Mila. Yet somehow tonight was different.

There was something different about the air. The sky. Even the ground upon which he tread. He felt as if he was alone for the first time since he'd met Mila. Like a lost soul meandering through the darkness of the aether. Alone. Ever watchful for the guidance of the lady that many of the denizens of the Sanctum had taken as their personal goddess. Some had called her the Aerth Mother and to others she was the keeper of the sacred harp. A many stringed instrument whose tendons she'd pluck giving resonance that married probability and causality with the freewill and action of the beings inhabiting the Prime and the Aerth. He felt as if he was more subject to the effects of those strings than the cause.

"I'm really lost and more importantly I have to be not so for Mila's sake." He spoke aloud.

He took a moment to eye each of the hotels one at a time trying to find something familiar about their logo, the lobby or some other identifying factor which he could use to find his way.

Barris thought about his predicament and wondered objectively who might be able to help him the most with directions. He looked around finding nobody in the streets that could voice their opinion. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a familiar car. A taxi cab. He started waving his hands frantically stepping out in front of it flagging it down.

"Hi. Take me to the hotel that is six blocks north of this place and put the ride on my hotel tab with as big a tip as you want." Barris said to the driver showing him the message he'd been given by the concierge.

The taxi driver examined Barris' eyes closely looking for any signs of intoxication or insanity before even acknowledging his presence.

"Sir. You realize that you just ran out in front of a moving car just to..." the taxi driver leaned out of his driver's seat window to address Barris in frustration and possibly pity.

"I am trying to save my wife to be. I ask that you take me seriously. I have nothing other than my own word!" Barris said pleading with the driver.

"Sir. I must beg of you to either get in my cab or vacate the street." the taxi driver's Sri Lankan accent found gentle acceptance in Barris' heart.

Barris looked around momentarily before jumping in the back seat of the cab.

The cab driver shrugged his shoulders before speeding of into the night.

Exactly one minute and thirty seven seconds later the cab pulled up in front of one of the hotels Barris had seen from street only moments ago.

"We are here Sir. Could I please have your signature?" the taxi driver queried Barris.

Barris had barely settled into his seat in the back before responding.

"Hmmm. Alright." Barris said accepting the pen the driver had thrust into his hands.

"Fine my good man. I've got money to spare. Three hundred dollars would certainly be about an average tip I'd give so I'll sign to this..." Barris said bluffing as best he could.

Barris stepped out of the cab strolling casually through the front door into the foyer hoping that he'd not have to deal with the repercussions of his folly.

The taxi driver pulled out a moment later happy with the transaction. The dispatch had notified the driver that Barris' transaction had gone through without a hitch.

"My gosh! What a saint of a man was he! I think I'll be off duty for the rest of the night." the driver exclaimed now three hundred dollars richer.

Barris pondered his circumstances as he strode through the lobby of the hotel which he clearly did not recognize.

"Wait. Have I been had?" Barris pronounced realizing that he was in the wrong hotel.

...

Sato crept quietly as he could forward through the room, a tiny bead of sweat descending his forehead to his brow before hang dropping to his cheek. As his foot came to rest on a section of flooring there came an abrupt squeak from the floor boards. Sato remained still and as quiet as he could despite the immense pressure and stress Nelony's fear bore upon him.

He paused a moment hoping she'd naught heard it.

"That was too loud. They'll hear!" Nelony scolded him clasping his shoulders tightly while perched upon his back.

He winced a moment before deciding to speak in protest.

"For the Emperor's sake they're only Mimes! Not only that but they're...  they're not even real Mimes! They're only made of wax! Ask Louis Tussaud!" Sato responded losing his patience.

"I think he's dead." Nelony replied.

"Probably as a result of a neurotic guest like yourself to his wax museum?" Sato responded losing his patience under Nelony's growing weight.

"That. Or possibly Mimes." she replied very seriously in terror of her phobia as she clamored further up Sato's back.

"Of all things, what are the odds that we would happen upon an exhibit of Mimes in a wax museum which coincidentally happen to be one of your worst phobias?" Sato begged the question.

His knees buckled momentarily before he caught himself.

"I never in all of my life could have imagined a retirement such as this. Is it just me or is this the fate of all senior citizens in the West?" Sato asked her honestly.

"Look. I did not invent Mimes. So don't try blaming me for this." Nelony said very comfortably of her position in the matter.

Sato muttered something under his breath before continuing the final stretch to the back door of the display.

"Shhhh! They could have heard you!" Nelony tightened her grip on him.

Sato shook his head. He savored the thought that at least he could be grateful for the fact that Barris had chosen Mila over Nelony.

When Sato had stable footing in the rear doorway, he leaned forward twisting backwards as he did relieving himself of Nelony's weight. She tumbled to the floor landing on her rump having bruised her ego more so than anything else. Sato lay still a moment enjoying his release of her burden.

Nelony twisted herself quickly making sure that none of the Mimes had heard them, quickly realizing that she'd bought into her own phobia.

Sato sighed in relief more so that Nelony had not been startled than their landing than the response he'd expected from the Mimes.

"We've made it. No small feat I'd say considering you rode out the entire trip on the back of a senior citizen." Sato reminded her perhaps reaching out for some her respect though he hardly expected it.

Sato turned quickly realizing that she was already out the back door of the museum.

...

Mila had pretended to have fallen asleep as Mr. Fortune sat silently as the time passed. At a quarter before one he stood and spoke.

"I bid you ladies farewell. You are sufficiently incapacitated for the moment but I will be seeing you again soon where I imagine we will once again attempt to deal with your situation. Good evening for now." Mr. Fortune proceeded towards and out the hotel room door.

Mila sat motionless for a few more moments waiting for him to have made some distance from them. She opened one eye looking around for a moment making sure that he'd not tricked them. When the coast was clear she opened the other.

"I think he's gone." Mila announced.

"I know. I've been keeping a close eye on things from in here." Shaela said from within the purse.

"Pardon?" Mila replied leaning closer to the purse.

"Never mind. I think this is our chance." Shaela said stepping out of her purse, her shadow cat following behind her.

"I think my spell is wearing off. I can wiggle my toes. Wait. I can move my legs too." Mila's toes twitched and her legs bent at the knees as she slid towards the side of the bed.

"Good. Now can you help me get out of my mess?" Shaela asked Mila sarcastically.

"What if our spells mess up again?" Mila asked Shaela ensuring that Shaela was ready to take such a risk.

"How could it be any worse?" Shaela asked Mila.

"I don't know but I'd bet that it could be a lot better or worse on that matter. The question is are you ready for the risks?" Mila once again confirmed.

"I won't blame you if things go wrong if that's what you're after." Shaela assured Mila.

"Alright. He said that my friends would pay for the imbalances but he did not say anything about me being affected. We have to assume that the reason that my spell messed up was because I tried to affect him. Maybe I'll have a better shot at this." Mila reasoned.

"Wait. What if you casting a spell on me is a case of you either giving me an advantage or disadvantage. Wouldn't the spell then take the most disadvantageous possible outcome?" Shaela's point seemed like solid reasoning to Mila.

"Well then that means that we have to choose our spells carefully." Mila responded.

"Alright. I need you to restore me to my own proper size." Shaela requested of Mila as she stood on immense landscape of the bed.

"Alright. Let me think..." Mila thought for a moment.

"What is there to think about? It's a simple weave!" Shaela demanded growing ever frustrated with her size.

"My spell weaving requires a foundation in the arts. Either my own or someone else's. The more well known the artwork the more its potential power. The same effect also works in reverse so the lesser well known it is, the more power it may have." Mila tried to explain the concept to Shaela who could not conceive of it.

Mila face lit up as she happened upon a possibility.

"Alright. Here goes." Mila began her casting.

Mila's hands twisted gracefully as a dance of colours and light emerged between herself and Shaela. At its apex brightness Mila released it towards Shaela.

Shaela's tiny form grew returning her back to her normal size, but not without some remarkable side effects.

"I feel different." Shaela announced her voice deepened by nearly an octave.

She rubbed her face finding instead of her smooth complexion a coarse patch of stubble. Her hands found their way around to her hair finding that it had still retained it's length. Her chest somehow felt different as well, where it had once been the upper core of her energy she felt off balance, as if her energies had shifted almost entirely to a point below her navel.

"Alright. What did you do to me?" Shaela's masculine voice emerged.

"We'll fix this Shaela. Don't you worry." Mila responded unsure of how to handle this situation.

"We'd better fix it fast. I can't go out there like this! I'm wearing my best dress!" Shaela stepped off of the bed and turned around looking at her rump in the mirror.

"My dress is ripped. Wait. I'm ripped. I'm actually buff! What happened to my private parts? I'm a..." Shaela spoke in a deep voice still in utter shock.

"...mess? I know Shaela. We'll get this fixed. Somehow." Mila replied.

"What are you waiting for? How typical! Would you rather sit down and talk about this? I need a solution and I need it now!" Shaela said losing her cool as her body and mind adjusted to a vast difference in bodily hormones.

"I can't undo it right now." Mila replied.

"What? Did I hear you correctly?" Shaela asked in a confrontational tone.

"What I can't figure out is how is this disadvantageous? I mean of course besides the obvious." Mila replied somewhat playfully perhaps finding more humor in this situation than did her friend.

Shaela's temper boiled and she became aware that her body had differences that would make managing her emotions a much different challenge than she'd been used to. She considered that difference carefully before responding realizing that her different hormones could easily run her rationality ragged and into sheer reaction.

"I'm sorry. This is very different and the hormones running through my body are making it a difficult adjustment. So how long do I have to wait before we can try to get me back to normal again?" Shaela asked Mila with a bit more calm in her voice.

"Normal?" Mila confirmed.

"Sorry. I didn't mean that Men are not normal, despite the evidence they often present to contradict that idea. I meant how long before I can continue my life on the side of the gender fence the way that I started it?" Shaela asked Mila.

"I don't know. Maybe a few hours. We have to get this curse on our luck lifted before we try again." Mila strongly suggested.

"Alright. Then lets figure out a solution to my clothing dilemma." Shaela urged Mila.

"That will probably not be nearly as difficult though I wish Barris were here. I think he'd like having a buddy." Mila covered her mouth to mask her giggles.

"Watch it!" Shaela responded sharply pointing her finger at Mila.

Mila snickered and made her way over to the room phone thinking very much as Barris had earlier in the evening. A few moments later the arrangements were made and the hotel billed a rental tuxedo to their room with Shaela's newly acquired masculine measurements.

"You're going to answer the door when it arrives, right?" Shaela confirmed with Mila.

"Only if you say pretty please." Mila replied giggling once again.

"You aren't flirting with me are you?" Shaela stepped back certainly shocked by this turn of events.

"Don't flatter yourself. I'm just playing with you Shaela. Besides, I'm sure that if the shoe was on the other foot that you'd be less forgiving than I." Mila responded.

At that very moment there was a knock at the hotel room door which Mila answered. The tuxedo had arrived and Mila thanked the bell hop for the delivery signing for a tip to be applied to the same billing as for the room.

Mila tossed the tuxedo at Shaela who quickly snuck into the bathroom with it closing the door behind her. A moment later Mila heard a distinct scream.

"Everything alright in there?" Mila asked tapping on the bathroom door.

"Everything's fine. Just fine. I just snagged my recently acquired member on the zipper of my pants. It's going to take a little bit of getting used to though I'd much rather be back to normal before I become comfortable with it, hint, hint!" Shaela's growing frustration apparent through the door.

"Sooner that we get out the door the sooner you'll be back to normal, though I'm beginning to like the new you. Much easier to get you going than before." Mila quipped as the bathroom door opened.

Shaela finished buttoning up her shirt. When she got to the bow tie, she left it loose and dangling completely stumped as to how she might tie it. Mila stepped over to her and started to fix it for her when Shaela erupted once again.

"Leave it! Don't touch it! I mean it." Shaela backed away from Mila.

"What about your purse?" Mila asked her.

"This just keeps getting more complicated..." Shaela shook her head wondering what to do.

"Why not just wear it?" Mila asked.

"Because... it's not a masculine thing to do." Shaela replied reaching for some kind of logic that simply seemed to have no point.

"Says who? I mean who are you trying to impress with your visual gender anyway?" Mila asked her.

Shaela stopped for a moment thinking about what Mila had just said.

"I guess I was just going along with my appearances so as not to make it complicated for others to deal with me or to put myself or you in an awkward situation. It's already awkward enough." Shaela replied.

"Thanks for the thought, but I'm already quite comfortable with myself enough so not to let what others think about me or my friends bother me. I certainly don't expect you to be anybody but yourself. You don't have to hide that part of yourself from me." Mila nodded assuringly to Shaela.

"You're right. I mean inside I'm still the same Shaela. I'm just having to deal with my own mind inside of a different body with very different hormones and physical features. I guess I didn't want to be an embarrassment to you." Shaela answered.

"Well I wouldn't be a very good friend if I expected you to be anyone but yourself when you were in my presence, would I? You could have worn your dress and I'd still have been happy to have your company to solve this challenge. I don't think that you want the kind of friends that would expect you to be anyone but yourself just to spare them some embarrassment. That's a little shallow and selfish if you ask me." Mila reminded her.

"A little? Huh! Well thanks Mila. I'm certainly glad that it was you that I found myself in this predicament rather than Nelony, and certainly Barris. No offense." Shaela found solace with Mila's honesty.

"Alright, let's solve this mystery and balance the books between ourselves and Mr. Fortune." Mila opened the hotel room door.

Shaela grabbed her purse opening it just to make sure her miniaturized shadow cat was still with them.

"You're staying in there whether you like it or not." Shaela chirped at the shadow cat in her purse.

"Good idea. After all, you don't want to end up with a shadow dog now do you?" Mila said beckoning her.

...

"I told you. Mimes are perfectly harmless. Especially the wax ones." Sato goaded Nelony purposely trying to get a rise out of her as they walked up the Niagara strip.

"No they are not! If they were harmless then why do they have to be so quiet? I mean you'd think that most harmless things are loud and boiserous. Even a nuisance. But Mimes are ever so quiet. I mean one could sneak up on you and... and..." Nelony tried in desperation to reason her phobia with Sato to no avail.

"So is peace. Peace is silent. Peace can sneak up on you too and take you by surprise. Is peace a monstrosity as well?" Sato posed.

"Well?! If its the peace of death it could be!" Nelony retorted.

"So I assume you're defending your phobia more so than peace. Perhaps you should just lay down now and wait for your fate to be delivered by Mime. I'll leave you here to meet your fate." Sato reasoned walking of in the direction of the hotels.

"Wait! Don't leave me here! Sato, its so hard to explain. Haven't you ever been afraid of something so much that you don't know why you're afraid of it?" Nelony asked him perhaps reaching for some mutual understanding.

"I only fear one thing. The old man that has been chasing me trying to get me to slow down long enough to perish finally catching me. Everything else is just another experience to be had and sometimes shared when I'm not alone. I am not alone here, though you are so preoccupied with Mimes of all things that I'm having trouble keeping pace against that old man. He's just down the street there watching me. Waiting for me to slow down long enough for him to get his wretched hands around me and take me for good. Now you can live a life in fear, waiting to die, or you can live a life in anticipation of what comes next in your life and move forward to meet it. Its up to you." Sato folded his arms hoping his point had hit home.

"You're going that way I take it?" Nelony asked him pointing up toward the hotel and casino.

"Precisely." Sato answered.

"Well that is the opposite direction of the Mimes..." Nelony shrugged her shoulders.

"...and the old man chasing me." Sato agreed.

"So lets go together?" Nelony suddenly found an renewed vitality in herself.

"Good idea. And no. You can't ride on my back ever again unless you're willing to reciprocate." Sato said firmly as he strode forward.

Together they marched up towards the hotel and casino ahead.

...

"I said my name is Mr. Barris Windsor." Barris asserted his name to the hotel desk clerk.

"You mean Windsor, as in the place where Napoleon Bonaparte fell?" the clerk responded

"Well, it has the same spelling but I certainly do not believe that is from whence it came." Barris responded trying his best to sound noble.

"I do believe you are correct in that assumption, Sir. I'm still looking up your records on the computer here. One moment please." the desk clerk responded.

Barris took a moment to look around the unfamiliar hotel lobby. It was as wondrous a sight as was the hotel from which his room had been registered with the addition of a Casino. The entrance of which was not far from a magnificent curved staircase which found its base twenty steps there from.

"Sir. It appears that you already have a room here." the clerk responded.

"I do? Oh, of course. How completely silly of me. Of course I do. In fact I've a room registered at every hotel in Niagara just in case I happened to wander too far away. Just a safety precaution you know." Barris appeared enlightened to the clerk's revelation so much so that he stood quietly for a moment pondering before he spoke again.

"I'm sorry but my room number and keycard seems to have left my person. You wouldn't be able to relinquish a new one for me would you?" Barris asked trying to appear convincing.

"You are in room 216 checked in with your fiance." the clerk replied.

"Oh of course. How silly of me. We're really close. No really, I mean we're close. In fact we're so close that we tend to lose track of one another every so often." Barris tried his best to appear sincere.

The clerk took him as non other than such curious as to how Mr. Barris had survived life thus far.

Barris accepted his key from the clerk and thanked him. When he was more than ten steps from the desk Barris sprinted full tilt for the stairs. He leapt the stairs two and three at a time up to the second floor. He stumbled looking for signs indicating the direction of the room. When he'd found it he used the keycard to gain entry.

"Mila! I'm home!" Barris announced as he entered the empty room.

He checked the room thoroughly noticing that someone had been sitting on the bed from the way the bedding was splayed. Barris sniffed the bedding closely up towards the pillows and walls detecting the scent of Mila's shampoo and body wash. He felt tingles throughout his body upon smelling her scent and raised his fist in victory.

"YEEEEES!" Barris yelled aloud as someone pounded the wall opposite his room.

"Could you keep it down in there! Use a pillow or something if yer screwin' mate!" a muffled voice yelled from the other side of the wall.

"Why don't you use a pillow! Maybe wrap it around your oversized ears MATE!" Barris yelled back.

Barris waited for a response though none came much to his relief.

"Ha!" he quipped to himself.

His focus quickly returned to Mila.

"She certainly was here. Where did she go? What would Mila do in these circumstances?" Barris asked himself.

He thought for a moment trying to recall any moment that might indicate something about her that might draw her to a location away from her bed.

"The art shop?" Barris spoke aloud pacing as he spoke.

He vetoed his answer and continued his pace.

"The lottery!" he raised his hands in victory once again lowering them realizing that there was no convenience shop for miles.

He slowed the pace of his thoughts momentarily and pondered.

"Scratch?" he considered carefully as he scratched behind his ear.

He paused to consider his new discovery.

"She's in a giant scratch and win lottery!" he blurted in realization.

Once again there was pounding on the wall.

"Buy her a goddam scratch and win ticket and get to sleep ye Charlattan!" the voice blared from the other side of the wall.

"She's not a Charlattan ye wall abuser!" Barris responded sharply.

On the other side of the wall a man addressed his sleeping wife:

"Well at least he loves her." the man spoke before attempting to settle back to his light sleep.

Barris suddenly realized where she was.

"She's in the Casino!" Barris blared one again.

There was pounding on the wall once again.

"Well goddam go and win 'er MATE!" the voice demanded through the wall.

"I'm goddam her's already MATE! But I'm gonna get her again! Thanks all the same MATE!" Barris replied.

"No problem MATE! Give her a wank for me!" a response came from the other side of the wall.

Barris struggled furiously against the urge to respond before he broke down.

"Thanks MATE but no wanks for you!" he replied as he stormed out of the room.

On the other side of the wall the man addressed his wife:

"Honey? Are ye 'wake yet honey? I'm feelin' hot and ready luv!" he whispered loudly and unceremoniously into his wife's ear.

She turned over facing him directly.

"Perhaps ye could use a pillow or something. I'm feeling cold and hesitant luv!" she responded turning over and going back to sleep.

...

"Not again! How is it that men can stand these things?!" Shaela said aloud her masculine voice sharp and edgy.

"What, beards? Stubble?" Mila asked Shaela as they made their way through the maze of slot machines scanning for Mr. Fortune.

"No... I mean Women's underwear was clearly not designed handle... you know. The other parts...?" Shaela shifted her walking as if coping with some unseen imbalance.

Mila stifled her laughter trying desperately to feign concern for Shaela's plight.

"Oh? Ohhhhh. Um, which one do you mean. The tree, or the garden stones?" Mila asked her as strategically as possible.

"Well as long as the tree is pointing up, it seems comfortable enough, though these Women's underwear don't quite do the trick in terms of keeping Mr. Tree in the right place. The garden stones? They seem to kind of drift to one side or the other and get very uncomfortable. I mean if they could each pick a side and stay put, I'd be quite happy. It really disgusts me having to talk about this... You just wouldn't understand. So, what are you drinking?" Shaela spoke suddenly insensitively to Mila as if somehow isolated from her in a way she could not describe.

"I'll have a glass of wine." Mila responded.

Shaela turned to one of the service staff.

"Could I get a sifter of Wine and a cup for the lady. I'd like a beer. Whatever you have on tap." Shaela said turning and confidently attending to their order.

"This table looks like a good vantage point from which to see everything. To find Mr. Fortune." Mila made herself comfortable.

"That's exactly what I was thinking. We'll just have to pop over and keep a closer eye on the blackjack tables every so often." Shaela sat across from Mila on one of the fixed stools that surrounded the table.

One of the bar maids showed up with their order, carefully placing the sifter of Wine on the table along with a glass for Mila. She then placed a pitcher and pint glass before Shaela, quickly flashing her a smile. Mila immediately noticed and made no mention of it though it completely went unnoticed in Shaela's radar.

"Soooo... do you think you're predicament is affecting your notions of gender maybe? Just a little?" Mila asked honestly curious about her friend's perspective.

"What? Did I do something wrong?" Shaela asked somewhat shocked.

"No. Not at all. It's just that you usually drink Wine. The redder the better as you always say. Meanwhile you ordered my drink for me, and chose Wine and then a pitcher of draft I'm assuming for yourself. Maybe there's some sort of implied gender upon our drinks of choice? What made you choose the draft over the Wine?" Mila asked Shaela.

"Don't Men always drink beer?" Shaela confirmed with Mila.

"Not necessarily. I mean Men drink Wine. Why didn't you order Wine for yourself? Or maybe a Scotch?" Mila asked Shaela very curious about what was driving her at the moment.

"This, is not the time or place for Scotch. Scotch needs attention. Some time to be appreciated. We're in a Casino. This where the attention span is more afforded to slot machines and blackjack tables than what's in your glass. Scotch my dear, deserves the same attention level of the company you share." Shaela spoke like a true connoisseur.

"So your choice of drink for us was motivated by an impression or by your new identity?" Mila carefully dodged the Scotch issue.

"No. It was motivated by thirst." Shaela spoke decidely masculine and leaving little room for any question of justification.

"I think you're very much the part now. You must be getting accustomed to the new hormones." Mila insisted.

"Well then I guess we're going to have to solve this problem before I start enjoying it." Shaela continued looking around the Casino for any signs of Mr. Fortune.

...

"Look. There's Mila! I can't believe we found her! Who's that with her?" Nelony nudged Sato as they searched the Casino.

Sato leaned forward squinting carefully at the occupants of the table.

"You've got me. At least we've found Mila. Let's get over there. Oh and there'll be no mention of the Mimes." Sato said to Nelony begrudgingly.

"Deal. And I won't mention Mr. Sato Horsey either." Nelony agreed.

"I'm glad we're on the same page." Sato kept pace with Nelony as they approached Mila.

...

Barris had just arrived at the bottom of the stairs and was stepping into the Casino when he spied a familiar face a good distance inside.

"Sato!" Barris exclaimed his voice covered by the sound of music and slot machines.

Barris dashed as quickly as he could through the crowd getting a glimpse of Nelony as he strode forward.

"Nelony? Nelony!" Barris tried to raise his voice over the mixture or sound little success.

He followed the directly of their travel immediately seeing their quarry.

"Mila!" Barris began a mad dash for his one true love.

That was when he spied his crystal ball nightmare. The Mustachioed man.

...

Mr. Fortune looked on safely concealed between the adorations of two Women who bracketed him in his seat at the blackjack table. His attention suddenly focused from the game to the arrival of the players in his real game.

"It seems that the festivities are really about to begin. How fortunate we are wouldn't you say?" he turned to address each of the Women whose admiration was directly proportional to his blackjack winnings.

"Oh and it looks like our final guest has arrived. The real wild card in this game. Mr. Barris Windsor." Chance Fortune spied the man he'd failed to understand.

"Let the games begin. Hit." Mr. Fortune addressed the dealer.

The dealer placed his card face up completing his perfect hand.

...

"Don't look now, but I think I just spotted Mr. Chancey pants." Shaela gestured in the direction that she was trying to indicate.

Mila peered through the crowd immediately recognizing Mr. Fortune. He sat at a blackjack table bracketed carefully by two Women. They coddled him as he undoubtedly amassed his fortune.

"What's the plan? I could hit him with shot of brimstone from here. Might get messy but it might be our best bet, pun intended." Shaela suggested lining up her shot.

"We can't do that in here. There's too many innocent people around. We have to incapacitate him, not kill him. That way we can negotiate with him. I mean, look at his pass time. Gambling. This man loves to take his chances. He likes to negotiate, mind with the deck stacked in his favour. So we have to trap him into a situation where we have the advantage for negotiating. Besides, if we try to hurt him we don't even know if he's mortal." Mila looked around carefully trying to come up with a plan.

"How about I walk right up to him and grab him by each of his mustache handlebars? I think he'd much rather negotiate, wouldn't you?" Shaela spoke, her masculine flare starting to present itself during their crisis.

"Personally, I don't think you'd even get close to him without triggering some kind of misfortune upon yourself." Mila told Shaela looking very seriously at her through his masculine outer shell.

"How could it get any worse. I'm a Woman that has very suddenly been forced to live in a Man's body with the hormones and private bits of a Man. Not to mention, I think my armpits are starting to sweat." Shaela groaned raising her left arm and taking a whiff.

"Whew!" Shaela grimaced.

"Get a hold of yourself! Men deal with this all the time and they even get a chuckle out of it. Come on, you're a Woman for crying out loud. You can pile stress onto your shoulders up to the sky and still smile in the face of it all. You can carry a little infant body around on the inside of yours for nine months, surviving on nothing but pickles and ice cream for the whole trip. When you're done, you let that little body out of a hole no bigger than a nickel and are able to walk it off within an hour. If we can deal with all of that, then you can deal with a bit of perspiration in your armpits and Mr. Tree and his two garden stones not being situated correctly in your underpants. Now come on, Man up! errr.... Woman up... errr... Shaela up!" Mila responded clearly frustrated with Shaela's current state of mind.

"Alright. You've got a point. I'll tone it down.So what do we do?" Shaela finally agreed.

"Let's see if we can get in on his own game. I've got an idea." Mila began explaining her plan to Shaela.

...

Barris stood rooted in place, nearly immobilized in the fear he'd built up surrounding the mystery of Mr. Fortune.

"I have to save Mila from that wretch. What should I do?" he spoke aloud as the casual commotion of the casino continued.

He suddenly remembered the three cards that Bella had given him and her instructions:

"Do not let him or anyone see them. Just as any deck, if the cards become known, so do the possibilities of what they may or may not be..." 

He pulled one from his pocket and asked his question aloud:

"What should I do to save Bella from the Mustachioed man?" he spoke.

He turned the card over in his hand careful not to let anyone else see.

He mired over it and its image for a moment trying to make sense of it.

"What in the tardis is a Hierophant?! Bella!!! It's a man sitting in his pajamas! How is this going to help me to save Mila? Wait! Is he fondling himself?!!!" he said aloud to himself unable to decipher it's apparently hidden meaning.

...

Mila had already left their table making her way to one of the black jack tables adjacent to that where Mr. Fortune was playing his current game. Shaela waited for a moment downing the last of her beer before moving ahead with Mila's plan.


She'd not tested her abilities with the weave since her sudden change though she'd felt her connection with the energies of the weave similarly. She could not explain to Mila nor anyone how different they were. It was like the connection was somehow misplaced and offset within her abdomen. Where her womb might have been as a Woman yet so near to her sexual center. It was as if the purpose of her magic had changed from a need to create, to an urge to unify. Shaela proceeded attempting to use her current gender as a man to her best advantage. Perhaps there was genius in Mila's plan after all, Shaela pondered as she approached Mr. Fortune.

...

Mr Fortune staid his hand knowing of Shaela's approach though not of her purpose.

"You've arrived much changed from what you were. Such a pity. You were a red haired and ready beauty as I seem to remember." Mr. Fortune tapped the blackjack table waiting for the deal.

"It is you who need pity though I'd prefer not to give it." Shaela responded rubbing her stubble with her hardened hand seeming to accent the stab upon Mr. Fortune's masculinity.

"I take it you seek to challenge my rule of this table?" Mr. Fortune turned to face Shaela, momentarily brushing aside one of his bracketing ladies.

"Rule? This table? I doubt that very much. After all, its not you holding the deck. Why don't we let Lady Luck make that decision herself?" Shaela looked over flirtatiously to the female dealer attempting to play the part of her current gender.

The dealer showed only the slightest hint of a smile perhaps amused by Shaela's statement.

"I take it that you are challenging my lead at this table?" Mr. Fortune confirmed with Shaela.

"That I am. Flagging one of the bar maids for another pint of draft." Shaela responded taking a seat opposite from Mr. Chance.

"You do recall what I told you in Mila's room? That so long as Mila did not reveal the nature of her secret, that you and all of her family and friends would bare the burden of misfortune required to re-balance how she's benefited during her existence in the Prime Plane." Mr. Fortune reminded Shaela of the odds she'd be facing.

"That I do. It's a chance I'm willing to take." Shaela offered unphased by Mr. Fortune's reminder.

"Very well. I can't stop you from playing at this table. But it you choose to try to dominate, you must best my purse where we both start from the same amount. Say one hundred Canadian dollars seeing as we're on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls?" Mr. Fortune offered.

"That seems fair enough, though if I win you will lift the debt against Mila for all of her friends the world over. Not just us here and now. Including those elsewhere in the Prime Plane of existence." Shaela demanded.

"And when I win with what do you wager?" Mr. Fortune inquired of Shaela.

"If you win, Mila has offered to put the balance of things back within your realm of the judgement of balance. You are free to do with the imbalance caused by her secret as you see fit to repair the Prime Plane. We all will pay for it from our own lives. All present here and on her side." Shaela presented her wager.

Mr. Fortune considered the wager for a long moment before responding.

"I accept your wager and challenge." Mr. Fortune took his stack of chips and handed them to the two ladies that had kept his company for the night.

"Here, take these and cosy yourselves up in my room with whatever you desire. I'll be up when I'm done dealing with this wager. Make sure the champagne is cold and the bed sheets are warmed." Mr. Fortune smiled revealing a gleaming golden tooth within his rictus.

Shaela and Mr. Fortune placed their chips on the table, the dealer waiting patiently. Their game began.

...

Barris struggled with the symbolism implied by the card he'd pulled from his pocket, the only sure key to help him overcome this barrier between Mila and himself in this imagined plight. He sought to turn the situation around so that he could be with his wife to be in Niagara Falls as he'd romantically planned.

"A Hierophant? Oh Bella what could this mean, please?" he struggled trying like Mila had to conceptualize the weave though for him it would have been impossible though nought inconceivable.

The weave had long been an aspect of the feminine energies of conception and creation, though not limited to the procreation of life. Lyra, the figurehead and symbol of leadership within the Sanctum had long known this secret and had sought to instruct both Women and Men of its significance. She'd been successful though what had emerged was a distinction of the energies of the feminine and the masculine, resulting in the polarity which both often experienced in matters of the magics of the Prime and the Aerth. Barris himself had stumbled through life learning bits and pieces of this significance. It had been what had linked him with Mila in perhaps an ordained manifestation of this symbolism. He as a poet had to overcome those symbols. He ultimately had to express his love for Mila by way of action. Not thought. Not word, but action in this instance in a Casino in the midst of Niagara Falls as action. In other circumstances he recognized that he might have a different path but this one secluded him to action on her behalf. Despite what he interpreted from Bella's card he had to act and that was the genius of the draw of the card he'd drawn though he did not himself comprehend it. Instead he acted upon his interpretation and fate itself would only understand.

...

"You mean we finally made it all this way and all for nothing?! How did we end up here!? If I whisk myself home will I end up here again?!" Nelony exclaimed.

Mila leveled her hands lowering them in an attempt to shush Nelony unsucessfully. When she'd recognized that she'd failed she instead held a solitary finger to her lips and whispered sound of: "Shhhh!"

"Mila, we just braved a wax museum full of Mimes for you. Both of us. Both of us!" Nelony gestured toward Sato who managed to cringe while withdrawing to the shadows.

"Mila my dearest! You have to understand we endured grave peril as Nelony has explained!" Sato tried obliquely to gesture towards Nelony in the absence of her gaze in attempt to indicate to Mila the state of mania he'd endured by Nelony.

Mila immediately understood much to Sato's relief and stress though Nelony had interpreted Mila's gesture as thwart to the impression of her own sanity.

"Look! Just because I intensely fear Mimes is no reason to regard me as a lost cause!" Nelony responded to Mila.

Mila responded rapidly and tactfully.

"Nelony. We're in the midst of a plan to free us all. We're trapped in a way that is very difficult to explain. If you would please I'd prefer if you'd helped rather than hinder? Perhaps you'd consider staying for a hand at this table. Please!" Mila replied as she arrived at the Poker table.

"Are you kidding! Malicious Mila! I'll show you no mercy! I'll have you know that I was a Champion Poker player..." Sato stated as he sat next to Mila at the Poker table.

"If Barris were here, I'm sure he'd have a funny and snide remark to that statement. For now you're going to have to make do with: Are you kidding me? The only one you're a Champion at poking is Barris!" Mila replied drawing upon Barris' wit in his absence.

Nelony paused thinking for a moment about their plight and quickly comprehending what they'd been trying to communicate all along.

She sat down beside Mila and ordered up a hand from the dealer for the next game.

"Alright. You win. We'll do it your way. By the way, didn't see Shaela here did you?" Nelony asked Mila.

"Who? Shaela? Oh... you mean our Shaela. Yes... er, well no. You see its hard to explain..." Mila stumbled before breaking down to give Nelony an explanation of Shaela's current situation.

...

"Yess! Blackjack! Gotcha!" Shaela announced her masculine hand flying into the air.

"I may still tie you. We're playing against the dealer and its dealer rules you know." Mr. Chance informed Shaela.

Shaela's gloating immediately ceased. Shaela took a moment rubbing the stubble on her face and poured back a lofty swig of her draft.

"Alright. Have at it!" Shaela responded looking to Mr. Fortune's cards.

He'd a Four of Diamonds showing and a card face down which he'd turned over to reveal an Ace of Clubs.

"Dealer, card please?" Mr. Fortune tapped the table.

The dealer replied with a Queen of Hearts.

"Fifteen. Hit?" the dealer asked.

"Card, please." Mr. Fortune once again tapped the table.

She slid a Seven of Diamonds across the table.

"It seems that I've gone over. You win. Enjoy this because it is a rare occurrence when you're playing with fortune itself." Mr. Fortune responded seeming somewhat concerned.

At that moment Shaela felt nauseous. Am immense pain took hold of her stomach and chest and she struggled to stay on her feet.

"I've seen sore losers before, but never a sore winner!" Mr. Fortune quipped taking a swig of his whiskey.

Shaela grimaced in pain one final time before falling back into her chair. She was once again a Woman. Her stubble had gone and the colour had returned to her cheeks. Her red hair seeming to fit with her feminine looks more so than it did with her masculine appearance. The tuxedo became loose upon her and she removed her jacket, tying it around her waist.

"I feel much better!" she announced looking towards her covered breasts.

"It seems that your current fortune has changed." Mr. Fortune commented to Shaela as the two Women bracketing him moved closer to him for protection.

"I'd say so. You think I was a difficult opponent then, wait until you play me on my home field." Shaela replied confidently.

"Keep in mind that someone else is baring the weight for your gains..." Mr. Fortune advised her.

...

"Shaela's a man!?" Nelony verified what she'd heard with Mila.

"Well, technically she's got Man parts. She's still a Woman inside but with Man parts on the outside. Don't ask me how it happened. Must have been bad luck from Mr. Fortune. Oh wait... Not anymore. She's a Woman again. This is confusing..." Mila glimpsed Shaela at the Blackjack table across from them as she stood to remove her jacket.

"You mean you can see her? Where is she?" Nelony asked Mila.

"Over there! Beside the man with two candy girls. He's the reason that we're trapped here. He's Mr. Fortune. Mr. Chance Fortune. She's playing against him in an attempt to win our freedom. Don't go over there or you'll..." Mila replied but it was too late.

Nelony was already on her way over to the blackjack table.

Mila was just about to follow her when a stranger grabbed her shoulder.

"Mila!" a familiar voice rang out in the air.

Mila turned around to see a face that was both familiar and unfamiliar.

"Barris?" Mila asked stunned by his new appearance.

"Honey, it might be better for now if you'd call me Barris-ina..." Barris replied having himself transformed into a Woman.

...

"Alright Honey! Let's try another round!" Shaela exclaimed having gathered all of the wagered chips from her previous haul with Mr. Fortune.

"Shaela!" Nelony screamed as she dashed towards her friend.

Shaela turned her head upon hearing Nelony's voice. Nelony slowed her approach upon arriving and proceeded to jump in excitement having found Shaela.

"Oh Nelony! So good to see you and imagine that, here at the Casino!" Shaela exclaimed.

Mr. Fortune turned his head in the direction from whence Nelony had arrived, looking for any other possible thwarts to his progression. Barris instinctually poised himself (herself) between Mr. Fortune's point of view and Mila in order to protect her.

Upon doing so the Hierophant card disappeared from Barris' grasp.

"Nelony, so good to see you! I'm just dealing with a nasty wart on our rump as we speak. Care to add some of your good Karma in nature's favour and help me?" pleaded Shaela.

"Shaela! I have soooo much to tell you and its not gossip! I swear! I was with Sato and we were..." Nelony began.

"Probability is one thing. Time is another. Unfortunately as much as I chagrin, I have no say over the latter. I'd ask that you progress and proceed or suffer the consequences of the lack thereof." Mr. Fortune exclaimed.

...

"Barris?" Mila looked upon the lady before her.

"Yes, honey. It's me. I'm not quite sure what to do. I feel very different... and I've got different parts..." Lady Barris answered.

"It's alright Barris. We're going to work through this and get you back to yourself..." Mila tried consoling Barris as best she could trying to keep it low key.

"Barris!? Barris?? Barris..." Sato said raising an eyebrow.

"Oh go ahead! Make your comments! Have a laugh at my expense why don't you!" Barris responded shrinking behind Mila.

A lump formed in Sato's throat as he looked for words.

"I... I was actually going to say how nice your hair looked today..." Sato responded trying to respond correctly.

He suddenly felt he was walking through another mine field, much like the one he'd encountered with Nelony's fear of Mimes.

"No need to be so coy Sato. I know you! You're laughing inside! How dare you!" Barris responded looking out over Mila's shoulder.

"...and that tuxedo you're wearing. It really makes you look thin." Sato continued ever so carefully.

"How dare you!" Barris shot back.

"Barris! That's enough! Given this situation I expected more from you! You're making it out to be a tragedy being a Woman! Shaela was a Man for nearly an hour and she held her own better as a Man that you're doing as a Woman! Now come on! Man... er Woman up!" Mila turned to face Barris meeting her eyes directly.

"Shaela was a Man earlier? Really?" Barris asked a smile slowly growing across her face quickly spreading to a chuckle.

"Don't you laugh at my friend! Yes, she was a Man. After being a lady for her whole life. She managed an hour as a Man. I think that she did pretty darn good too. So that brings us to you. Are you going to feel sorry for yourself for being a Man turned into Woman and be a discredit Men everywhere, or are you going to thrive as a Man who became a Woman and be a credit to Women everywhere?" Mila asked him shaking him.

"I don't know... I'm so confused. Shaela was a Man? Really?" Barris stifled laughter.

"You're hopeless!" Mila said as Barris began laughing uncontrollably.

"Oh, and your shoes are quite nice too. I imagine you have a whole closet full of them?" Sato said beginning to laugh himself.

Barris ceased laughing at hearing Sato's comment and that's when the reality of his situation hit him. He thought carefully about what Mila had said to him. Despite the situation he was still both a representative for Women and for Men, regardless of how it turned out. He could be a failure as both or he could be credit to them too. It was an opportunity.

"No more comments about Women and shoes or their clothing and their weight!" Mila responded to Sato.

"I meant you as well." Sato said charmingly.

"...really? You think this is a nice dress...? Wait a second! I mean it! No more cliche comments like that!" Mila quickly caught on to his evasion.

"Alright. But Barris is still open game." Sato replied.

"It's a deal horsey." Mila replied to Sato.

"What's this about a horsey?" Barris asked as Sato ever so slightly shrunk.

"Oh, nothing Barris. I'll tell you about it later depending upon Sato's behavior." Mila addressed Barris as Sato begged her not to divulge details of his time with Nelony an hour earlier.

"So what's the plan honey? How do I get my buff back?" Barris asked Mila.

"Are you any good at Poker?" Mila asked Barris.

"Is that the one with Trumps and Bowers? Yes I think I've played once. Maybe twice." Barris responded honestly.

"Its not the same game, but you'll do just fine." Mila encouraged Barris winking to Sato.

"We need Nelony in order to do this! Remember!?" Sato reminded Mila.

"Nelony!" Mila yelled over to Nelony as she spoke with Shaela.

...

"Nelony, you need to go over to Mila's table and play out the rest of your game. Trust me. I'll be fine here with Mr. Fortune." Shaela said urgently winking at Nelony.

"Alright. We'll talk after the game." Nelony winked back.

"It would seem that your friends have a taste for distraction. Is there something of which I should be made aware?" Mr. Fortune asked Shaela.

"Nothing at all that you can't handle I'm sure." Shaela replied signaling the dealer to deal their cards.

...

Nelony had arrived back at the table with Mila, Sato and now Barris.

"Oh my... what happened Barris?" Nelony asked.

"Don't you like it? It's my new look. I thought I'd try it out for a day. You know. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes." Barris responded as Mila rolled her eyes.

"Oh Barris that is so thoughtful of you. My gosh, could I get a picture of you?" Nelony said pulling her cellular phone from her purse.

"NO! I mean no, my dear. I'd rather it remain our little secret. Between friends. Alright?" Barris rapid heart slowed when he saw Nelony place the cellular phone back in her purse.

"Ok. So I guess I'll deal this round?" Nelony asked.

"Go ahead." Mila replied looking over to Shaela making sure everything was alright.

"Barris, we're playing five card draw." Nelony said dealing five cards to each player.

"Fish!" Barris replied immediately placing one of his cards on the table.

"No Barris. It's not that game. Nice try though." Mila snatched his card up and gave it to him before anyone saw it.

The first draw progressed, then the second and finally the third. By the third draw Mila had acquired a Pair of Threes and a high card of Five while Nelony and Sato each did not have much better. Barris meanwhile who'd caught on quickly to the concept had a Full House with Aces High. Barris clearly won the game although Barris did not realize that his opponents were purposely playing to lose.

Mila looked quickly over the Shaela who signaled that her current hand would be a tough one.

Shaela's visible cards summed to Seven while her hidden card was merely a Five giving her a total of Twelve.

Mr. Fortune's visible cards were an Ace and a Six, giving him either a minimum of Eight or Eighteen assuming his hidden card was also an Ace.

Shaela signaled the dealer to hit her with another card. The dealer handed her a Seven putting her squarely at Nineteen.

"I think that I'll stand with that." Shaela's shrewd look eased slightly letting Mila know that her fortune had changed.

"It seems that you are on a roll and in a strange coincidence of probability." Mr. Fortune replied still maintaining his cool.

It was at that moment that Barris looked over to see Shaela and had a sudden Deja Vu.

The angle in which she was seated revealed the chair upon which she sat, which appeared much like the throne depicted in one of the cards Bella had given him. The Hierophant. He suddenly trembled and quivered with shivers all through his body and all at once the Womanhood bestowed upon him had left him.

Shaela looked upon Mr. Fortune as his appearance begin to change. His long and twisty moustache shriveled up and diappeared leaving a milky white complexion. His hair once short and nearly absent now unfurled to his shoulders, long silvery black and white. He'd inherited the transformation from both Shaela and Barris to become a Woman himself.

The two Women who'd stood by him as book ends on either side suddenly withdrew. They looked upon what had been their meal ticket and screamed. They quickly stormed out of the Casino in shock and terror.

"It would appear that you've stumbled upon the means to my magic. Suffice it to say that in knowing this you are destined to lose. For you may know me as Miss Fortune." the newly born Miss Fortune addressed Shaela.

...

"It seems that we've won our first round here?" Sato said looking first to see that Barris had returned and then over his shoulder to where Mr. Chance Fortune had sat only to see his visage replaced by that of his alter ego, Miss Fortune.

"I'll say! I've never been so happy in my life that my Johnson is caught in my gauchies and pointing in the wrong direction!" Barris said aloud and ecstatically.

"Welcome back Barris. It's good to see you. Now lets figure out how we beat him... or her... once and for all so we can get home." Nelony said impatiently.

Mila immediately jumped up and threw herself onto Barris' lap giving him a short but passionate kiss on the cheek.

"We're nearly there! I'm so happy to see you! As yourself... though I'd have happily accepted you either way." Mila replied.

"Well it appears that you don't have to, but I did get a chance to appreciate the change in perspective though not as much as I'd have liked to." Barris said thoughtfully.

"Perhaps we can undo the magic that returned you to us?" Sato asked looking at him mischievously.

"I'll say! Then you'd be outnumbered!" Nelony said jumping to Barris' defense.

"You know the saying Nelony. Don't kick the horse that carries you? Especially if there's..." Sato began.

"...mines! Yes I have an intense fear of... mine fields... I admit it! I get your point Sato!" Nelony quickly recanted her statement to protect her secret phobia.

"Alright. Enough bickering. We've got to back up Shaela. She's in the hot seat right now. Let's finish this game and get back home." Mila interrupted before they strayed too far.

"I agree. I think I remembered to put the sherbet back in the freezer at home honey. Perhaps we could continue where we'd left off with our dessert?" Barris asked her affectionately.

"We could do... Hey! They've left!" Mila began pecking Barris' nose as she noticed that Miss Fortune and Shaela had disappeared from the blackjack table.

Nelony jumped to her feet scanning the Casino for any signs of Miss Fortune and her best friend.

Mila followed suit (pun intended) heading over to the blackjack table where the two had sat moments earlier. Barris and Sato followed behind her.

"Did you happen to see where the two Women seated here went?" Mila asked the dealer.

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about Miss. I just started my shift." the dealer replied completely oblivious of the people to whom Mila referred.

"What's the time?" Mila asked the blackjack dealer.

"It's just before 10 PM. Thank the stars I was early for my shift." the blackjack dealer replied adjusting her vest and bow tie.

"What day?" Mila asked her.

"It's Friday don't you know the saying? Thank goodness its Friday! I've got customers. Are you in for the next hand or not?" asked the blackjack dealer.

"Thank you. Its quite alright." Mila replied slowly turning to Barris, looking as if she'd seen a ghost.

"What's the matter honey?" Barris asked Mila.

"I think that the clocks were just reset." Mila said in disbelief.

"I thought daylight savings was a few months ago? Don't you remember? Spring forward - Fall back?" Barris said trying his best to be helpful.

"That's not what I meant. I mean I think that we've been pushed back in time to the beginning of this evening again. To the point that we got here." Mila said to him.

"But we're all together? Except for us and Shaela." Barris replied looking around for any sign of the red haired Night Wytch.

"It would seem that the clocks and time itself have been pushed back and the time that everyone has experienced has been erased from their minds." Sato observed.

"Except ours." Nelony replied, her South London accent thick.

"So where does that put Shaela and Miss Fortune?" Barris asked looking to each of them.

Mila struggled, thinking of a way that she could explain her conundrum without revealing the secret nature of her amulet. It was the only thing left protecting all that she'd loved in life. Everything and everyone that had been taken from her before and shortly after the battle of Alivale.

She somehow needed to communicate with her friends to trust her guidance without revealing the fact that she was linked to the very nature of their problems with Mr. Chance and Miss Fortune.

Beside her Barris too considered how he might broach the advantage his secret knowledge of the tarot cards Bella had bestowed upon him might be the means by which they could release themselves from the clutches of their two become one adversary.

Barris seldom thought about such topics as chance, fortune and infinity yet he found his mind delving into these topics with a somewhat natural ability to navigate them on this night. Coincidentally and perhaps so destined as such he considered the link between probability and Mr. Chance/Miss Fortune's abilities. The ability to balance the books of luck. Had he known about Mila's current dilemma they both could have speculated on the connection between their mutual secrets. His tarot cards and her amulet. Though if they did, he and Mila's parents would be wiped from existence and Mila would be left to spend her life lost and alone.

"Well we'd better think of something before we lose them both." Sato advised them amidst the lights and hollering bells of the one armed bandits that populated the Casino.

"Of all the places to be lost. In Niagara Falls? Why couldn't it have been Acapulco?" Nelony asked aloud.

"Wait! Nelony, you're brilliant! Maybe there's some kind of link to this situation with where we are!" Mila blurted out hardly able to contain herself.

"What? You mean like the Casino?" Sato asked a bit sarcastically.

"No. I mean Niagara Falls! Maybe there's some connection here that relates to our problem." Mila replied.

"Well lets see now. It's right on the border between Canada and the United States. Its big and has lots of flowing water." Barris began.

"Did you mention the fertility thing?" Nelony asked.

"No. You're right. Its somehow linked to fertility in some way. I think that's why its such a popular honeymoon site for local couples." Mila responded considering that point carefully.

"Do you think fertility could affect the outcomes of gambling?" asked Barris.

"I don't think so. At least there's not a connection between them in terms of the weave when it relates to things that aren't living. Like the luck of a dice roll." Mila replied still digging into their collective cerebellum trying to find the answer.

"But the presence of the Casinos. Do you think that is connected?" Sato asked her addressing her as though he were her psyche.

"It must be in some way. How are we going to find that out at this time of night?" Nelony suggested.

"Why don't we just tunnel home and wait for Shaela to contact us?" Barris asked.

"I tried tunneling. I couldn't open a portal. It's like there's some kind of field blocking them." Nelony told them recalling her first attempt back in the basement storage room of the wax museum.

"But we didn't try scrying. Maybe I could open up a Scry Gate to the Sanctum. Access the Codex Universalis and try to find something about Niagara there?" Mila suggested.

"We can't do that in here. I'm surprised they didn't hunt us down with a lynch mob after seeing Shaela, Barris and Mr. Chance all transform before their eyes. If we do anything like that we've got to find a better place. I think a bit of discretion might pay off in here." Nelony advised them nodding her head.

"I have a room? We could do it in there." Mila said remembering her room.

"Let's get to it then. Maybe we could get some room service too? I could use a bite." Barris said rubbing his stomach.

"The only bite you'll be getting is from Shaela's giant cat friend if we can't rescue her in time." Sato reminded Barris of their lack of time.

"Honey. Do you think they have room service for cats?" Barris asked as they made their way back up to Mila's room.

...

The roar of enormous amounts of water plunging helplessly into the Niagara basin cascaded through the valley reaching them as they approached the natural monument. They'd been walking silently and one of them reluctantly though her effort to deny the path of the other had only made Shaela weary. She had no choice on this journey perhaps much like life itself. She could either proceed with it or defy its prevalent current, the choice was hers. Inside Shaela's purse her shadow cat protector, now no bigger than a grapefruit lay in wait for Shaela's call to arms or claws as it may be. She lost track of their progress just as Miss Fortune broke the silence.

"So why do you think that I've lured you to this point here Shaela?" asked Miss Fortune having fully accepted her earlier transformation.

Shaela walked beside that whom had once been Mister Chance Fortune silently for a moment contemplating her own situation. Within her purse she could feel the anxious tension of her miniaturized shadow cat protector, ambitious to get out and to its full size, perhaps just over the size of a mature elephant. Shaela kept her hand in her purse stroking the miniature cat, trying to keep the poor thing calm as she considered an answer to Miss Fortune's question.

"I'm not quite sure. I mean I've heard of the significance of Niagara before. I believe it is related to fertility. Birth. Beginnings?" Shaela replied perhaps prying for more answers from Miss Fortune.

"Yes. What most people think. I mean it is, or was the honeymoon capital of the world. Perhaps in an era gone it left its impression like so many natural places there are to behold upon this world. Under the ever watchful and loving eyes of the Aerth Mother as your friend Nelony might espouse to us each. I have a feeling that you see things differently. Perhaps your shadows and darkness lends insight that eludes the light of creation. Living in the darkness. Silent. A shadow of what others have done. Are you not just a projection of the ambitions of the light?" Miss Fortune asked her digging deep into her ego and fears.

"The shadow is no more a result of light than the light is a result of shadow. They are intertwined with one another: perhaps reluctantly at times. They are nothing without each other and yet so much in opposition. My purpose is not composed of the lack of light but rather a purpose within the shadow. Light is not knowledge and the shadow is not the lack thereof nor the keeping of the hidden. If it were that simple then light's voice would be heard often while the shadow would be silent always. None learn in silence and just as many fall to ignorance in constant expression. I may contend that your oversimplification of my beliefs are nothing more than your attempt to grasp at them?" Shaela stroked the shadow cat in her purse as she pursued Miss Fortune's purpose.

"Grasp? That's a choice word to use for someone who took up the challenge offered by one who commands the very essence of what mortals may call probability? I figured you for something different Shaela. Someone who wasn't so lost in... numbers... numerals... chances... possibility...? You seem to me much different. To be driven by some unseen immaterial force and yet one so familiar to us all. Those who wield the weave, those who feign as such and those who nay as much." Miss Fortune spoke luring Shaela further.

"Well you do seem to have the very concept of chance at your disposal. Maybe that's why you chose a Casino to manifest before us and challenge us to a duel of fortunes?" Shaela replied still digging.

"No my dear. It falls much deeper than you fathom, perhaps even more than twenty thousand leagues I'd suspect. For therein was the courage to defy, though that is not enough nor is it an enticing graft to the heights that hold us now?" Miss Fortune replied heatedly.

"Ironic that you'd choose such an anecdote based upon a submarine devised by Jules Verne to express the notion of height and achievement. I've not read many of his works but suffice it to say that I've read that one. I find it surprising that you'd choose the deep to express the notion of height. Are you perhaps by our standards reversing the two?" Shaela asked having encountered this sort of ambiguation in the hands of others.

"No. Perhaps it is of importance to our symbol tonight. The heights of emotion. Of hope. Of... that last dashing feeling that all is lost within the mystery of that which cannot be seen within the mist. Lost to time and chance both." Miss Fortune explained.

"So my experiences as the masculine were nothing more than a mystery?" asked Shaela.

"No more than are mine as the feminine. We both learned and I admire your friends for being such great instructors to even one of my wisdom, though they did miss the point." Miss Fortune replied.

"And what point was that?" Shaela asked keeping her hand in her purse and upon her shadow cat protector.

"The point of a love lost... Perhaps the Maiden Of The Mist might answer thee?" Miss Fortune responded.

Shaela looked down and her feet had long passed the surface of earth that had once held their weight. They were now over the Niagara basin itself, suspended above the mist.

"I?... am the maid of the mists?" Shaela queried startled by their predicament.

"Your path has become intertwined with that of Mila's in ways that would be difficult to explain to you. Mila's violation of probability and chance has brought you to this fate. Her failure to divulge the nature of that violation is what brought you and your friends to this unfortunate disaster. Tonight you are the Maid of the Mist, my lady of the red shadow. To the depths you shall ascend by way of the force of gravity rather than probability." Miss Fortune responded as gravity took hold of Shaela's body.

She plunged helplessly for what seemed an eternity struggling to get one last spell from her fingers before disappearing into the mists.

...

"Why, can't we just continue our evening from whence we'd left it?" Barris asked squeezing Mila tightly as they entered the hotel room.

Mila who was on the brink of hysterical laughter somehow kept herself in check despite her lover's ticklish embrace.

"Your poetic tongue wain't throw me my love." Mila forced herself desperately upon her lover hoping he'd withdraw and to her joy, despair and relief he did.

"Ahem." Sato responded flatly from behind them.

"Ditto." Nelony added from behind Sato.

"I'm sorry, then let's begin this shall we?" Mila said as Nelony threw herself onto the bed exhausted.

"I agree. Certainly before we get too comfortable. I mean I have some unfinished business that needs attending to when we get home." Barris said grabbing at one of Mila's ticklish parts.

"I think that you and I are just observers here in this situation. Let these ladies get down to business as it were." Sato said sitting down in one of the overstuffed chairs in the corner.

"For once my grouchy old friend, I agree with you." Barris sat down beside Sato, eager to return home.

"Did I just hear you call me friend?" Sato said begrudgingly and grouchily.

"Point in case." Barris responded.

Mila and Nelony had begun their incantations and before long the room itself began to hum and shake as a spherical portal opened. It appeared first as a tiny glowing point much like a star expanding until it was the size of a large beach ball. Within the sphere the glowing aether of time and matter intertwined ebbed and flowed before their eyes.

This was the sum of all of the Aerth's history and much beyond. It reached back into the very initiation of creation itself. When nothing had suddenly become something, an event many beliefs had tried to explain and each in their own way in their attempt to answer the how of our being. The Universalis Codex was different for it recorded the actual time and energy of every event since that point. It lacked both the pragmatic and dogmatic aspects of any written account of creation only containing its very subjective essence. In this sense it was useless to the ill of heart and mind that often plagued those who sought answers from it, for it required a purposeful being willing not to impose their own concepts of existence onto the answers it held. To approach it with the reverence that one might hold for universe itself. Perhaps looking more from their eternal self or as some might call it, their spirit self. It was an objective record whose readings were purely subjective and uniquely distinct for it spoke in the language of causality and allegory itself. In a language only meaningful to the seeker of such answers. Carl Gustav Jung had explained it with his theory of synchronicity which had often become mixed up in the understanding of many as the anecdote: as above, so below. Both the Universalis Codex and C. G. Jung's synchronicity were beyond any similar concept and thus it took a keen awareness to interpret from it.

One of the responsibilities bore by any of the Wytch or Sorcer kind bound to the duty of the Sanctum was to bear the weight of balance and imbalance represented within the Universalis Codex as it affected life on Aerth itself. Every justice and injustice experienced throughout the history of life was part of that burden. It was through carrying this weight that the membership of the Sanctum itself would both become fluent in the language of the Universalis Codex and wise enough to interpret it for it would speak to them each differently. It would cry out to them in the agony of pain. It would rejoice in the vigor of achievement. It would rumble in the wake of injustice and resolve in its solution. It spoke to them each and it was this very essence that guided the Sanctum to its duty and was perhaps the greatest responsibility any of them bore.

Mila had first started becoming sensitive to it after her second year with the Sanctum. Long before the battle of Alivale where she'd encountered and battled Lorr himself. At that time and history her parents had been dead for five years and she'd found herself in isolation during her home life. Mila at that time had taken to painting, obsessively and intensely she'd produce each work. It wasn't until she stood back that she'd noticed a strange coincidence within her subject matter and within each work itself. In some cases it was manifested in the actual brush strokes themselves. Within the fiber of the brush. In others the coincidence was holistic and related to the subject of the painting itself. Yet all were related.

At first Mila had written this off as part of the exertion of her own expression upon her artistic pieces. Bits of her life finding their way onto the canvas. Her sadness at the loss of her parents years prior. Her loneliness at home and sometimes within the Sanctum itself. She'd ponder the fact that she was not separate from her works of art. They were very much a part of her and contained bits of her being. Whether by deliberate expression or by the sweeping tension of individual hairs on each brush she was a part of such works but there was an inner dialect happening. One which defied even the intuitive nature of artistic expression and was more a subjective language which only she could understand.

Years later and after the battle of Alivale she would understand this collusion and colliding of meaningful coincidence. After all, history had rewritten itself for her sake and all by the power of her amulet. Her parents had never died nor had Barris. She'd overcome Lorr himself proving her loyalty and allegiance to the protectors of Lyra and the Aerth Mother. Her Father himself explained it to her trying his best to elicit his understanding to his once little girl:

"Mila. There are times in life when you need to pay attention. I don't just mean that you need to be awake. I mean that you need to pay attention. Be aware of the underlying language of things. Of life. Its there. I get glimpses of it. Your Mother certainly does and it has saved us many times. I have a feeling that you've experienced it in ways that you can't understand. That you're in resistance to the very idea that there may be something... someone... a higher being out there trying to talk to you through reality itself. Some may call it God. Some their Guardian Angel. The Natives to this land call it their Spirit Guide. We all understand it differently but its there and for some of us its... pronounced. I have a feeling my little beauty that you fall into pronounced category. Perhaps beyond what any of us might be able to fathom. It certainly speaks to me in droves through your art, honey. That's your gift. Don't fight it. Pay attention to it. It might lead you to places for which you've longed. To places that might save you. Might save us all. Heck, for all I know you may already have. All I'm saying is to not fight it. Work with it. Listen to it but keep yourself and your Mother's own good sensibility in there too."

That was when she'd grasped what he was trying to say. Perhaps what the Universalis Codex itself was trying to say for its voice was heard by all in the Sanctum and its voice and language was different to each. Mila had become familiar with it. Nelony was just becoming attuned to it. Together they could look safely for answers though ultimately the answer, their answer was tied inextricably to fate and an item within Barris' pocket.

...

Shaela grasped at the air as she tumbled towards the Niagara basin. She'd struggled to piece her hand motions together into a weave that could save her as she struggled against the centripetal force of her spin. She managed the last somatic component of her weaving just as she was about to splash down.

The entire Niagara basin froze into a sheet of enormous ice with her landing atop of a mountainous snow drift that had formed beneath her. She rolled from the soft and quickly melting snow and onto her feet on the ice.

A moment later Miss Fortune landed beside her solidly on her two feet.

"Well it would seem that the Maiden was saved by the frozen mist this time. A much different ending than had occurred for the local legend..." Miss Fortune exlaimed.

"What does this have to do with me?!! Why are you doing this?!!" Shaela screamed at Miss Fortune as she struggled to keep her footing unaware that Miss Fortune's probability altering magics were already undermining her step.

"You're paying for your friend's debt! Don't you remember the conversation we had in your hotel room? Until Mila divulges her secret, you and her other friends will pay for the imbalance her secret has caused. Your only freedom from this isn't going to be paid by a card game, but only by her words." Miss Fortune looked towards Shaela's feet as the ice beneath them began to crack.

Shaela opened the contents of her purse onto the ice, her tiny shadow cat landing on its feet. Just as the ice gave way beneath Shaela she yelled a solitary word:

"Shemehkets!" as she plunged into the water beneath the ice.

There was a blur of motion before Miss Fortune. A giant quadruped suddenly appeared before her pulling Shaela from the water with its mouth.

Miss Fortune stumbled backwards nearly falling to the ice upon seeing the giant shadow cat which backed away from the growing hole in the melting ice, dropping Shaela onto more stable footing. It then snarled and looked to Miss Fortune. Its large eyes glowed a fierce and fiery red as it stalked its prey on the ice.

"No! Don't try to attack her!" Shaela screamed at the cat but its mind was already made up.

The tremendous cat, which was at least the size of a mature elephant, perhaps even larger stomped down with its front paws trying to catch Miss Fortune. The ice cracked around Miss Fortune's foothold breaking away into a perfect island supporting her just as the cat's enormous paws hit the broken ice. There was a tremendous splash as the cat disappeared into the strong Niagara current.

"Nooooo!" Shaela screamed as her protector disappeared into the water.

"It seems that luck failed you once again. And your poor cat." Miss Fortune laughed as island of ice carried her into the current beside what remained of Shaela's footing.

Shaela weighed her options should she fall into the water and knew that it would likely mean injury or even death for her given Miss Fortune's influence upon her luck.

Miss Fortune's own island somehow was pushed adrift of the main current and pulled shoreward towards a calm alcove. She watched as Shaela disappeared down the Niagara rapids picking up speed as she did.

Miss Fortune stepped off of her own ice island and onto the land with little effort despite the darkness. The shore where she had been deposited had the only foot path up towards the Niagara walkway. Once again she admired her good fortune and proceeded up the pathway.

"Not so fast." Mila said addressing Miss Fortune.

Miss Fortune looked up the path to see Mila blocking her progress ahead. There she stood alone in the same dress she'd worn in the hotel and Casino. Miss Fortune appeared amused by her sudden appearance.

"You're just in time to watch your friend disappear into the Niagara river my dear. You can fret upon her fate as it was your own doing. You could have freed her from this easily just by divulging the secret of your amulet.

"Its over. You're over." Mila said confidently.

"What do you mean. I'm a very force of nature and one that is required to oversee this balance." Miss Fortune responded suddenly defensive.

"No you're not. You're an impostor. I know your secret. You are not going to pass me on this night." Mila stood her ground.

"You know nothing! You're a whelp of that magical school of yours and a fool!" Miss Fortune looked to a large granite outcropping sneering as she did.

There was a cracking noise as the outcropping itself fell free of the cliff face and tumbled down the path towards them. Mila stood her ground as it approached. Just as it was about to roll over her, the boulder split in half rolling to either side of her. The one half continued directly towards Miss Fortune.

"Arrrgh!" she screamed as she dove out of the way just narrowly missing being crushed by the debris.

Mila waited for the dust to settle before speaking again.

"It's over. I know your secret." Mila confronted Miss Fortune.

"Do you?! DO YOU?! HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS SECRET?!" she shrieked still laying on the ground.

"I'd have to thank one of Bella's Tarot Cards and the never ending clumsiness and aloofness of my Barris and Nelony's astuteness." Mila replied smiling as she recalled the events that had led them to Miss Fortune's secret.

"If you so know then tell me!" Miss Fortune spoke slowly struggling to her feet.

"The real watcher of fortune and luck is Lelawala, the real Maid Of The Mist. An Iroquois Woman who since the death of her husband met disaster and a seemingly endless cycle of bad luck. The tragedy so grieved her that she allowed herself to plunge over the edge of the Niagara Falls and into the abyss to her death." Mila explained.

"You are so right about the Iroquois girl, but that has nothing to do with me!" Miss Fortune responded in anger.

"You're lying actually. You knew of her destiny to become the guardian of fortune and luck. You wanted that power all for yourself, so you murdered her husband with the use of a curse. With her heart broken, she was undefended against your magics which you used to flood her life with disaster until she let the decision of the current decide her fate for her. With her gone you were free to perform the ritual that made you the guardian of fortune and luck in her place and to help out your fellow Norbids and the Power Lords." Mila accused Miss Fortune.

"I am very impressed by your detective skills Mila. Most impressed. How did you discover this?" Miss Fortune asked now on her feet.

"During one of our own rituals to seek out knowledge of your origins, Barris had gotten fidgety and went to get himself a drink of water from the bathroom in the hotel room. As he got up, I noticed that one of the cards he'd received from Bella had crept its way up and nearly out of his pocket. As he got off of the bed, he tripped and fell perhaps by the bad luck you bestowed upon us and the card fell face up where I observed it. It was a card called The Star. It depicted a young maiden on her knees baring a water jug with her hand. From her hand she poured a river, with the water descending from the jug appearing like the falls themselves. Tears from her eyes fall into and mix with the river as well. Upon seeing this I spoke aloud: a maiden of tragedy? Nelony heard me and asked if I'd just said The Maid Of The Mist. We then checked up on the legend and found something strange. Around that time it had been recorded that a group of Norbids had set up a township not far from this Iroquois tribe. You were amongst them and it was you who brought that poor girl her misfortune, no pun intended." with Mila's explanation of the truth Miss Fortune's appearance quickly changed to that of a man en-robed in black cloak.

"It seems that you've discovered my ploy. Lorr had warned me about you as well. I'd assumed that with the seat of one of the immortals that I would be able to dispose of you easily. It seems that I underestimated you." Chance Fortune once again addressed her.

"You do realize that you can never leave this path alive? Don't you?" Chance Fortune's smile turned to a sneer as he raised his hands ready to cast Armageddon upon her.

Time stood still and both were immobilized just as the rock outcropping had been moments before. The stars in the sky had become bright and the milky way itself sparkled with its sheer magnificence.

Mila stepped away from her own body, a ghostly visage of herself. She observed her physical form standing helplessly on the path. Frail. Mortal.

Down the path from her, Chance Fortune's energy body also stepped away from his statue like physical body. He too looked upon himself though with disdain for the weakness of the flesh and very much empowered by his immortal energy body.

"It seems that we shall settle this score more permanently than our mortal lives permit us?!" Chance Fortune turned his attention to Mila once again.

A voice thundered through the Niagara ravine echoing to the sky itself and back. From overhead they'd heard it seeming to come from everywhere at once.

"Nothing of the sort will happen on this night Chance Fortune." The voice spoke.

Mila's head lifted skyward to see a Lady whose enormous form covered the entire sky. Her hair shone a platinum light which mixed with the milky way itself wrapping the Aerth in her natural buxom. A tear slipped from Mila's eye and down her cheek gleaming like a diamond.

"And who are you that challenges the authority of Fortune and Luck itself!?" Chance Fortune demanded of the sky itself.

"It matters not that question. You must answer for what you've done to Lelawala. You alone will pay for this crime. You will spend the rest of eternity as a Shape Ghost, ever hungering for the magic of the weave and the taste of life." the Lady of the sky spoke.

"This is preposterous! These charges are false! These are lies brought against me!" Chance Fortune pleaded.

"They are written in the fabric of the Universalis Codex and have for the first time recently been seen by the eyes of the only other mortals who know of your crime. They are as true as the stars themselves. Do you dare deny the sky?" the Lady asked her voice once again echoing the world over.

"I will fight this! This is injustice! Lelawala is a liar! Her husband is a liar!" Chance Fortune screamed as he disappeared both his physical body and energy form gone as if they'd never been.

"Mila Rendebelle. I thank you for uncovering this crime and for restoring the order and proper balance of fortune and luck in the Prime Plane." the Lady's voice softened as she addressed Mila.

"We couldn't have done it without my friends and certainly not without the Sanctum itself." Mila said humbly.

"You are freed from the oath of secrecy required by your amulet, but no such altering of history for your benefit will ever occur, though there are secret crimes that wait to be uncovered by related to those very events. Should you stay the true path shall you find these answers yourself. I leave you now." and with the Lady's last words Mila was once again in her body, the sky had returned to its casual magnificence.

"Thank you Aerth Mother..." Mila spoke softly.

...

Down the Niagara river Shaela's ice island slowly disappeared becoming ever smaller and more difficult for Shaela upon which to remain. She struggled until only a small piece of it remained and she could no longer stay upon it, sliding into the rapids themselves.

She disappeared under the water struggling to right herself and catch her breath. Her shoulder crashed into a large rock then her leg. A sharp pain shot up through her side as her arms and legs flailed. Just before she was about to fade into unconsciousness she felt a warmed body beneath her.

A moment later she was above the water gasping for air, riding on the back of her shadow cat. The cat roared digging its claws into the rocks of the rapids trying to slow their movement down stream. The giant cat's shadowy muscles gleamed as it tried to pull itself and Shaela towards the shore.

"Shaela! Can you hear me!" Nelony yelled from the shore.

"Yes! Hurry up and get help! My cat here cannot hold on much longer! I think one of my ribs are broken!" Shaela yelled trying to breath.

"We're got help coming! Just hold on!" Nelony screamed back at her.

Barris stood at the top of the ravine spying the other side of the fence where the Niagara walkway ran. Just down the street on the other side of the fence he spied a group of large creatures making their way up the street.

"Uhhhh... I think there here!" he yelled down to Nelony.

"Are you ready Sato?" Nelony screamed over to the Japanese man who stood by a large locked gate on the fence.

"I think so! You just make sure they don't think that I'm a snack!" Sato yelled back.

"Don't worry! Only four of them are carnivorous!" Nelony yelled back to him.

"Thank you! That's very reassuring!" he responded shaking his head wondering how they ever talked him into this.

There was the sound of skidding cars and a few screams as the parade of creatures crossed the road to get to the Niagara walkway. As they approached the gate where Sato waited for them, he wound up with his fist several times channeling as much Ki as he could into his knuckles.

With a loud kiai Sato fist flew with incredible speed snapping a six pound padlock in half. Sato quickly grabbed his hand shaking it jumping around from foot to foot.

"That was a tough lock!" he exclaimed in a bit of pain.

As the creatures approached the pain in his hand subsided and uncertainty set in. One of the grizzly bears looked over to him and snarled. Within half a second Sato was on top of the fence precariously balancing to stay out of the reach of any of the creatures. One of the elephants looked over to him. Sato could see it snickering at him and possibly even laughing.

"I take it that she told you about the mimes. Is there any dignity for an old man anywhere?" Sato said to the elephant sarcastically.

The two elephants, four grizzly bears a tiger and a lion made their way through the gate and towards the shore line of the Niagara river. As they approached Nelony she directed them out into the river to follow a series of large boulders which made a bridge enough for them to reach Shaela and the Shadow Cat.

The elephants waded directly into the water using the tide pools created by the boulders to avoid getting sucked downstream by the heavy currents. The grizzlies navigated the boulder bridge leading the way for the lion and the tiger.

The elephants arrived first, somewhat dwarfed by the Shadow Cat. They pulled at the legs of the cat trying to get it to the other side of the boulders where it could likely pull itself to shore.

The grizzlies got behind the shadow cat, having a bit of experience in these matters when it came to salmon fishing. They hung on to some of the smaller rocks and tried pushing the cat's hind legs and rump up and over boulders with the assistance of the elephants.

"That's perfect! Keep doing that! I think its working!" Nelony yelled approvingly at the creatures.

One of the grizzlies slipped nearly falling downstream itself. The tiger leapt and caught the grizzly's paw in its mouth. It pulled the grizzly back to stable footing just as another one slipped. The lion this time tried to save the grizzly only to fall into the river itself. The two of them clung precariously to each other as they were pulled down the stream.

"Don't worry! I've got this!" Barris yelled.

Barris had spied a large tree whose root system had recently become exposed and was now tipping over the side dangerously close to falling into the water. The tree itself extended for a hundred feet over the water.

Barris stepped out onto the trunk a short distance and began jumping. The tree began to bounce creaking a little as it swayed under his weight.

"You're going to have to go out a little bit further." Sato yelled as he came over to help Barris.

Barris looked uncertainly at the trunk looking back to Sato as he shrugged his shoulders. Barris then continued further down the trunk, now completely out and over the water before he tried jumping on it again.

Barris only had to jump once and the tree dislodged itself from the soil keeping it bound to the shore and fell into the Niagara river with Barris on it.

"Don't worry Barris! I've got you!" Sato yelled running towards where the tree had fallen.

Barris clung desperately to the trunk screaming as the water tried to push him free from the tree. Further up the tree towards its top, the grizzly and the lion had just barely caught one of the branches and were hanging on trying to pull themselves towards Barris and the shore. Barris saw them and screamed even louder.

Sato ran out onto the trunk of the tree extending his hand to Barris.

"Come on! Grab it you buffoon!" Sato urged him.

"I can't. If I let go with either of my arms I'm gone with the current!" Barris replied.

Barris looked towards the end of the tree and saw the grizzly and the lion approaching. Barris doubted very much they'd be delicate with him when they arrived where he was hanging onto the trunk in pulling themselves ashore.

Sato leaned over trying to grab at Barris shoulder. The tree suddenly lurched slightly under the force of the current and Sato fell into the river as well now hanging onto Barris' leg.

The elephants gave on last pull with all of their might yanking the Shadow Cat to the other side of the boulders. Around the cat, the grizzlies fell onto the same side of the boulders leaving them all safe to make way to the shore. Shaela held onto the Shadow Cat's aetherial fur as the giant cat made its way safely onto shore. As soon as they were safely onto the ground, Shaela let go of the cat and fell where Nelony quickly attended to her.

The Shadow Cat then turned and pulled each of the grizzlies and then the two elephants back before bounding over to where Sato, Barris, the grizzly and the lion were hanging onto the tree.

In its jaws it took the entirety of the trunk and pulled the entire tree with all four of them from the water dripping wet. Barris and Sato let go of the trunk falling to the ground coughing.

"Wow. That was fun. Anyone care to try that again?" Barris asked breathing heavily.

The grizzly and the lion stood up panting and out of breath. They each took a moment and then began shaking their coats spreading water everywhere all over Barris and Sato.

The Shadow Cat roared herding the other animals together where they began their march back to the Niagara Zoo from whence Nelony had summoned them.

"Thanks." Shaela said hanging onto her side as she fell unconscious.

"Don't worry friend. Help is on the way." Nelony assured Shaela despite her lack of awareness.

"That was pretty darn lucky. I don't know about any of you but I'm heading straight over to those slot machines back at the Casino." Barris said still laying splayed on the ground.

Epilogue

The group of them sat around Mila's dining room table enjoying the last of the dessert and a drink. Shaela was already fully healed and had managed to get her Shadow Cat back to the Shadow Plane undetected by any of the Niagara authorities. Nelony too had returned all of the creatures back to the zoo, where she surmised that they likely told their friends of their little adventure.

"So you never did tell us what happened with Lelawala and her husband." Nelony reminded Mila who sat at the other end of the table beside Barris.

"Well after the Aerth Mother made her appearance and had gone, I was visited by two spirits. One of them was the spirit of Lelawala and the other of course was that of her husband, Otetiani. They have been given the role of the keepers of fortune and luck for the next sixty six years, where they will watch over the falls themselves. They then thanked us and then disappeared." Mila recalled her last moments with the Aerth Mother, Lelawala and Otetiani.

"Well that just figures. I spend my life dedicated to her Order Of The Aerth Mother and she doesn't even make an appearance before me to thank me." Nelony responded only mildly upset.

"Are you saying that you're ungrateful that you won that cruise in the London Sweepstakes?" Shaela asked Nelony.

"Well, not really. I mean that was just my good fortune. Wasn't it?" Nelony posed for them sipping at her glass of wine.

"And I suppose that Shaela's home being purchased by London and made into an historical site was just another such case of luck?" Barris asked her sarcastically.

"Well I mean it just happened so fast. When I had my house appraised it wasn't even nearly worth what they'd settled on. I made a killing on it. In fact I had contractors convert one of the bedrooms in my new home into a specialized cat room. Carpeted walls. A self changing water reservoir. Climbers and gadgets of all sorts for their amusement. Cat doors everywhere. They just love it." Shaela smiled.

"You're one to talk. I mean what are the odds that you would find a lost hand written book of the works of Edgar Allen Poe at a garage sale just outside of Port Perry. It's valued at a hundred thousand dollars. I mean was that luck?" Nelony accused Barris of hypocrisy.

"Oh that's just coincidence. What does it's value matter. I'm never going to sell it anyway. Its a keep sake of one of my favourite writers and poets." Barris replied.

"...and then finding a hat from one of Benny Hill's famous characters from the original series and one of the control panels from the Tardis set from the original Doctor Who series at the same garage sale! I mean those shows weren't even made in Port Perry!" Sato reminded Barris.

"Yeah. Now that you mention it, that is kind of strange. I mean what are the odds of all of those things being in the same place for a few dollars? But that's nothing compared to what happened to Sato. I mean how many people get invited for an audience before the Emperor Of Japan!?" Barris clanked pints with Shaela.

"That was the second time." Sato replied keeping a modest look upon his face.

"All right. One last toast and then I think we should call it a night." Shaela suggested.

"Sounds good to me. I've got a busy day tomorrow getting prepared for my cruise." Nelony checked her watch.

"I agree, I have to finish up some matters at my store in Shepperton off the Thames and get ready for my trip to Japan." Sato agreed.

"Alright. Do you want to make the toast?" Barris asked Mila.

"I'd love to. Here's to Niagara Falls and should the day arrive that I or someone close to me decide to tie the knot, I'd certainly love to go there. Not only there, but that's one of the places we'd go." Mila kicked Barris secretly under the table.

Barris' face suddenly flushed red as they each held their drinks up and clanked glasses.

Later that evening Barris finished up in the bathroom, turning off the light and stepping over the bed where Mila awaited him.

"So we never did get to see that last card." Mila asked Barris as she pulled him closer.

"What card?" Barris said playing dumb.

"You know what card." Mila asserted.

"No I don't." Barris bluffed.

"You know. The last card from Bella?" Mila restated her original question.

"Well. Its a secret. It holds the key to the future as long as it remains a secret." Barris told her.

"Do you know what it is?" she asked him stroking his arm.

"No. I haven't looked at it at all." Barris answered honestly.

"So whoever knows what it is has knowledge of that future?" Mila asked.

"I think that's how it works. Obviously the more people who know, the less options there are for what it could have been to people who don't know what it is. If that makes any sense." Barris tried to explain it to Mila.

"Why are you suddenly so interested?" Barris found the waist strap of her undies and played with it between his fingers keeping it safely in place.

"Well. I just have something that I want to know. I mean, if I have a look, then there's lots of possibility what the future could be right? Cause its only me..." Mila asked him getting closer to his face.

"I've got an idea." Barris smiled.

"What?" she replied playfully.

"Why don't we both look. Nobody else will know and we'll have all of the possibility to ourselves?" Barris smiled slyly.

"That's a great idea honey." Mila pecked his bottom lip.

Barris reached for the envelope he'd sealed it in and placed in one of the night tables. When he found it after fumbling for a moment he handed it to Mila.

"You first my love." Barris kissed and suckled her top lip.

"Thank you." she accepted the envelope from him.

She slowly and deliberately pulled the seal from it and opened the lip. Within lay a solitary card whose back she could now see. She pulled the card from the envelope and held it up before her view.

"I can't believe it!" she smiled and hugged him.

Brian Joseph Johns
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Dedicated to Paul Donovan, Lex Gigeroff and Jeffrey Hirschfield

Please Show Your Support

If you'd like to give something back for my efforts in writing these free to read stories which do take considerable time and energy from my life, please show your support by donating to one or more of the following charities.

If you are a reader of The Butterfly Dragon I: Heroes Of Our Own stories and books:

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Brian Joseph Johns

Credits and Gratitude

Family, friends and inspirations throughout the world and here in Toronto, Canada.

Google Blogger for the initial web space for this project and others early on.

Google Maps and Google Earth which allowed virtual exploration of many areas featured in this story.

Microsoft for their operating systems which for the foundation for the tools used to produce this and other media.

Daz3D and Lightwave3D for the 3D graphics and rendering.

Adobe Photoshop for graphics, post and compositing stills.

Wilmap's Digital Creations for much of the clothing on the rendered characters.

Arki and Shox-Design for Bella's great veil.

As always, thanks to my parents for writing me.

Copyright © 2017 Brian Joseph Johns and Shhhh! Digital Media